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This spacewalk is not as it may first appear

Shenzhou-17 astronauts complete second spacewalk

The scene looks familiar. Two crew members in spacesuits working on the exterior of an orbital facility high above Earth. But look closely and you’ll soon realize that this isn’t, as you may have assumed, the International Space Station. It’s actually China’s Tiangong station, which was completed in orbit in November 2022.

In recent days, taikonauts Hongbo Tang and Xinlin Jiang exited the Tiangong space station for a spacewalk that lasted eight hours.

Footage (top) from the extravehicular activity shows the two taikonauts at work outside the Wentian Laboratory Module, with Earth several hundred miles below. Tang Shengjie, the third member of the current Shenzhou 17 crew, assisted Tang and Jiang from inside the station by operating the facility’s robotic arm.

The taikonauts completed various tasks during their lengthy spacewalk, including maintenance work on some of the facility’s solar panels.

While this was the second spacewalk performed by this particular crew, it was actually the 14th at the Tiangong space station overall.

Translated as “Heavenly Palace,” Tiangong began to take shape in orbit in 2021. It’s considerably smaller in size compared to the ISS. as it only has three modules compared to the 16 that make up the ISS. But similar to the ISS, visitors to Tiangong spend much of their time conducting science experiments in microgravity conditions. In future work, China will launch a powerful space telescope called Xuntian that will occasionally dock with Tiangong for upgrades and maintenance.

The launch of the Tiangong space station is a part of increased efforts by China to establish itself as a space superpower to compete with the U.S. It’s already had multiple successes beyond near-Earth orbit, including bringing samples of lunar rock to Earth and landing a rover on Mars. Its next big ambition is to put taikonauts on the moon before 2030.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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