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.