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Chinese astronauts working on the country’s future space station carried out their second spacewalk on Friday, according to the Chinese Space Agency manned.

Since their launch into space in June, the three-man crew has been working and living on the space station’s Tianhe core module, the largest spacecraft China has developed to date. They plan to have the space station, called Tiangong or Heavenly Palace, fully equipped and operational by December 2022 – an ambitious goal for China’s rapidly expanding space program.

Two of the astronauts, Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming, performed the spacewalk on Friday morning Beijing local time, leaving the core module to perform tasks such as installing equipment outside the space station and work on the tethered robotic arm, the space agency said on China’s WeChat platform. The third astronaut, Tang Hongbo, provided support from inside the cabin.

“The astronauts are in good condition,” state media Xinhua said ahead of the spacewalk, adding that the core module, spacecraft and cargo ship are “all working stably.”

The astronauts conducted their first spacewalk in early July, during which they tested next-generation spacesuits, installed equipment, elevated a panoramic camera and tested the station’s robotic arm.

It was also only China’s second spacewalk at the time, as the first was carried out in 2008.

No further spacewalks are planned for the remainder of their three-month orbital flight – the longest crewed mission China has ever flown. Their flight is only the first in a long series to come before the station is completed – after this mission, three more crewed spacecraft and two laboratory modules will be sent to the space station.

Once completed, the space station is expected to operate for 10 years, which could be extended up to 15 years. Although not as large as the International Space Station, it is designed to be permanently occupied by astronauts on long-term stays.

Chinese astronauts have long been barred from the ISS due to US political objections and legislative restrictions. The country’s space program has grown rapidly over the past decade and accelerated in the past year alone – scientists successfully landed exploratory rovers on the Moon in December and on Mars in May.

Russia, a longtime contributor to the ISS, also left the project and now plans to launch its own space station by 2030.


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