China’s space station recently gained a new module and with it a pair of huge, solar energy-capturing “wings” that can rotate as the outpost orbits the Earth.
The arrays are part of the Wentian experiment module, which launched in July. The angle of the panels can also be seen to change to face the sun as the Tiangong space station continues along its orbit.
Wentian’s two solar arrays are each nearly 98 feet (30 meters) long. Together they have a total wingspan of over 180 feet (55 meters). Each solar panel has a collecting area of about 1,184 square feet (110 square meters).
China plans to launch a third and final module to Tiangong in October. Called Mengtian, that experiment module will also carry a pair of large solar arrays similar to those of Wentian.
Three Shenzhou 14 mission astronauts—who are currently aboard Tiangong and preparing for a first extravehicular activity, or spacewalk, from the Wentian module—will greet the module.
The solar panels are designed to provide power for the Tiangong space station which China plans to keep permanently inhabited by rotating crews of three astronauts for over a decade.
When completed Tiangong will be around 20% as massive as the International Space Station, which has a mass of about 460 tons.