In the coming months, the China National Space Administration plans to launch two new space station modules, Wentian and Mengtian, on separate Long March 5B rockets. Before the end of the year, the modules will dock with the Tianhe core module, which was launched in April 2021, to complete the T-shaped Tiangong space station.

China plans to beat a new national launch record set last year while also completing its three-module space station and six related missions in 2022.

The two modules, which weigh more than 44,100 pounds (20,000 kilograms) each, are primarily intended to house scientific experiments. Wentian also includes new airlock facilities for extravehicular activities, or spacewalks, and will provide the space station with a second, smaller robotic arm.

After the new modules dock with Tianhe, a giant robotic arm on the Tianhe will grab and bring them into position.

Both missions' preparations are going smoothly. The final assembly and testing of the third Long March 5B rocket have been completed, and it will launch Wentian in the middle of the year. According to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), the fourth Long March 5B Y4 is nearing final assembly and will launch Mengtian in the second half of 2022.

"After the T-shaped structure is formed, we will fully test the functions and performances of the space station as a whole. We estimate that the space station will enter the operation phase at the end of the year," Bai Linhou, space station system deputy chief designer at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), told CCTV.

Wentian, or experiment module I, will act as a backup for the Tianhe core module, increasing the space station's stability and redundancy.

As part of the six space station missions scheduled for 2022, China will also launch two Tianzhou cargo spacecraft and two Shenzhou crewed missions.

According to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which owns CAST and CALT, China plans to launch 140 spacecraft on more than 50 missions in 2022. In 2021, CASC deployed 48 Long March rockets.

Tiangong is currently occupied by the Shenzhou 13 mission. Astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu will make the first "rapid" Shenzhou return to Earth, meaning they will land just a few hours after undocking from Tianhe, rather than spending 24 hours or more aboard their Shenzhou return capsule.

Shenzhou 13 launched on a Long March 2F from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Oct. 16, 2021. Another Long March 2F, the 14th in the series, has been in close proximity to Tianhe in case of an emergency.