On China's new space station, a robotic arm test paves way for future construction


A large robotic arm on China's space station has successfully grasped and maneuvered a cargo spacecraft in a crucial test ahead of upcoming module launches. The 33-foot-long (10 meters) robotic arm on the Tianhe module of China's new Tiangong space station took hold of the Tianzhou 2 supply ship and moved it around 20 degrees, before returning it to the forward port on Tianhe's docking hub. The 47-minute operation began at 5:12 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Jan. 5 (2212 UTC, 6:12 am Beijing time Jan. 6) to test the procedures and equipment needed for the addition and movement of larger space station modules. The successful trial was vital to the China National Space Administration's plan to complete construction of its space station later this year. China's next space station modules, named Mengtian and Wentian, are scheduled to launch on separate Long March 5B rockets in the coming months and dock with the orbiting Tianhe. The robotic arm will then need to grasp the modules, each with a mass of more than 44,100 pounds (20,000 kilograms), and maneuver them from the forward port to radial ports.