Chinese Move Forward With Space Station Plans

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)
China’s Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

Chinese officials say they are looking to complete a permanent, multi-module space station in Earth orbit in about eight years, according to media reports.

The plan calls for the launch of the Tiangong-2 space lab around 2016. The three-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft and Tianzhou-1 automated cargo freighter will dock with the space station.

Around 2018, China plans to launch the core module for a larger space station that will be completed around 2022, officials said.

China launched its first space station, Tiangong-1, in September 2011. Two crews lived aboard the station in 2012 and 2013.

China is actively courting other nations to participate in its space station program. Earlier this month, officials had a chance to discuss their plans with an international group of astronauts who gathered in Beijing for the annual meeting of the Association of Space Explorers (ASE).

Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China’s manned space program, said in September 2013 that China is willing to provide platforms for experiments for countries and regions to peacefully use outer space, and foreign astronauts are expected to board China’s space station.

“We are quite willing to cooperate with Chinese. In terms of the space station program, the two sides can cooperate in biology, space science and technology, life support systems and others,” said Russian cosmonaut Sergei Avdeev, who spent over 748 days on the Mir Space Station.

Koichi Wakata, a Japanese veteran astronaut and the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station (ISS), said he has been following China’s manned space program since Shenzhou-5, China’s first manned space mission, which sent Yang Liwei into orbit in October 2003.

“I’m looking forward to flying to China’s space station. Now I have to learn Chinese, although it is difficult,” Wakata said.

The permanent space station will require China to recruit a third group of astronauts in about two years, according to Wang Weifen, deputy director of China’s Astronaut Center.

“We will mainly take our task of space station into consideration when we select our third batch of astronauts in the coming years, and we will have a high standard for their physical, psychological capabilities and professional knowledge,” said Wang.

Wang added that different from the first two batches of astronauts, who are mainly pilots from China’s Air forces, the third batch of astronauts will also include doctors, psychologists and engineers from departments relevant to manned space research.

No female astronauts are planned to be selected this time, said Wang.

It is not clear why female astronauts would be recruited in the next round.

  • disqusser10157

    I wonder what effect getting other nations to partner with them (or their failure to do so) will have on the schedule for launching and occupying this future space station.

  • Glenn

    It is the beginning of space warfare to come.

  • DaIllogicalVulkan

    Sounds like they have a busy schedule, I wonder, will this project will have any effect on their Lunar ambitions? Because I heard that there supposed to land some time around 2020’s, and as far as I know the Chinese space budget is not as big as the Americans or Russians.

  • DaIllogicalVulkan

    I bet they’ll be done with the whole station before, Krunichev can even finish 1 module

  • su27k

    Nice, hopefully SpaceX and Bigelow would give them a big surprise in the form of a BFR launched BA 2100 by 2022.

  • Dennis

    And it doesn’t need to be, since they can work much cheaper. I mean, this is the country that invented safety nets on buildings to prevent underpaid and overworked production workers from suicide…

  • Dennis

    Forgive me for asking… but how is bringing up SpaceX/Bigelow relevant for this? The Chinese view upon this a matter of national prestige, no matter who else would launch a station (which may or may not be cheaper), they will go anyway!

  • su27k

    Not the Chinese people, it’s the Chinese Communist Party who views this as a way to validate their dictatorship over China. SpaceX and Bigelow are private companies who will show that space is no longer about national prestige and CCP’s little power game is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

  • Vladislaw

    The original plan was up and running by 2020 .. now it’s 2022 and some in china have said 2023+

  • Dennis

    Then it would internally still be a matter of prestige imho, the USA ‘cockblocked’ them on multiple occasions from participating in the ISS project. So this is a nice way of showing, in a time when the aging ISS will rapidly meet it’s expiration date, that they can have their own nice station up there. I am willing to bet that anybody (ESA, Roscosmos, JAXA, etc) is welcome on board… but not NASA.

  • Solartear

    They schedule like SpaceX. Hope they learn to innovate like SpaceX too.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Keep in mind how small the current Chinese space station module is. 15 cubic meters of pressurized volume vs the 100 cubic meters of even Salyut 1. I do hope the Chinese persist and keep at it. However I wonder how much real world experience they have with space stations having only flown a very small module. Not much bigger than the orbital module on Shenzshou. Not to mention the flight rate on Shenzhou is so low one wonders how long it’s going to take to become reliable. Also consider the people. In flight programs experience and in depth operations knowledge is gained by flying. The manned program in China seems to be a low priority, 2017 is awfully close to today, and I don’t see the kind of in depth program needed to support a Salyut 7, let alone a Mir scale space station program.

  • Sam Moore

    It might not exactly be a large station; but, looking at various images, I don’t see how TG-1 could possibly have a pressurised volume as low as 15 cubic metres.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I had to take a double take too. It seemed way too small. All the sources I can fine. Yes, wikipedia, astronautix, and others. The Chinese say the hab module is 3m X 5m. Which gives approx 40m^3 but Astronautix has this to say. “The orbital module, 3.35 m in diameter and 5 m long provides the crew
    space in orbit. To reject the 2 kW of heat generated by Tiangong’s crew
    and internal systems, a cooling system uses heat pipes to conduct heat
    from internal systems to an external radiator. This surrounds the aft
    2.3 m of the orbital module, increasing the diameter here to nearly 3.5
    m. It seems the interior of the module inside the radiator is packed
    with equipment and experiments, with perhaps a narrow space for crew
    access. A mockup seems to indicate that only the forward 2.5 m of the
    orbital module is free space for the crew, indicating a habitable volume
    for the entire module of only about 17 cubic meters.”. I think it comes down to how you define habitable volume. The volume of the pressure vessel? Or the volume that humans can occupy. Either way. It’s still a very small spacecraft.

  • Sam Moore

    To be fair, ‘pressurised volume’ is exactly how the wiki describes it. The referenced article for that doesn’t seem to even exist.

  • Rui Sousa

    Better still, if they welcome NASA and their station will be the only one NASA will have access to. Oh the irony…

  • Tonya

    The Tiangong 1 is indeed tiny, and will eventually be the basis for the Chinese cargo vehicle (their Progress). Future station modules are Salyut/Mir sized, and will require the still in development Long March 5 for launch.

  • Sam Moore

    LM-5’s core stage hit some pretty hard engineering difficulties, with knock-on effects on everything requiring it. First flight now isn’t scheduled until at least 2016.

  • windbourne

    I am willing to bet that none of the others will be welcome on Chinese stations, except on small specific missions.
    Their station is NOT civilian, but military. Far more than Russia’s or even Iran’s.

  • windbourne

    too late.

  • windbourne

    odd. SpaceX has been as close or closer to schedule than anybody else in the space arena.
    Why single them out?

  • Sam Moore

    Based on what exactly? They aren’t stupid, they saw how much of a waste of money Almaz and MOL were.

  • windbourne

    Mol never launched. How were either of these waste of monies?

  • Sam Moore

    They both were rendered pretty much pointless by advances in uncrewed recon sats. The US, as you noted, realised this before launching any; but that doesn’t negate the amount already spent by then on development, astronaut training, half-built station hardware, and the test launch.

  • Solartear

    Read the second sentence I wrote. Who else in the last few decades has been nearly as successful at rocket and/or spaceship innovation further enabling humankind?

    Of the completed projects, how much real technology innovation has there been?

  • windbourne

    1) new manufacturing techniques.
    2) massive parallelism on the engines.
    3) massive automation on launch.
    4) returned a stage from space.
    5) cheapest launch at the 13 tonnes arena.

    On the upcoming innovations:
    1) bringing back stage from space on land for re-use.
    2) pusher escape system for the space craft
    3) landing on land with with the space craft without chutes.
    4) full cycle methane engine.
    5) largest launcher ever built.
    6) cheapest launcher ever (well, hopefully).

    Finally, SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City hide their real IP. They do NOT patent them since China simply steals it all.

  • Solartear

    Second paragraph was referring to the “Who else” in the first paragraph. I originally singled out SpaceX because they have completed significant innovation, in seeming contrast to the rest of the industry.

    Hopefully China can successfully develop big innovations, which will advance the industry and others will learn from.