China Plans Space Station & New Booster Launches in 2016

Model of the Tiangong-2 space station
Model of the Tiangong-2 space station

China’s ambitious space plans for 2016 include a crewed flight to a new space station and the maiden flights of the Long March 5 and Long March 7 boosters. The nation plans to set a new record for launches in a year with more than 20 flights.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CAST), outlined the ambitious agenda in a statement posted last week on its website.

The Tiangong-2 space station is a larger version of its predecessor, which was occupied by the Shenzhou 10 and Shenzhou 11 crews in 2012 and 2013. The upgraded facility, which resembles the Soviet Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space stations of the 1970’s and 1980’s, will include two docking ports instead of one.

CAST said the Shenzhou 11 crewed spacecraft will be launched to the space station this year. The company did not give a timeline for when the flight would be conducted.

Tiangong-2 will test out technologies for a multi-module space station that China will begin launching later in the decade.

Long March 5 will be China’s most powerful rocket to date. It will be capable of lifting 25,000 kilograms (55,116 lb) to low Earth orbit and 14,000 kilograms (30,864 lb.) to geosynchronous transfer orbit. The launch will take place from the nation’s new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island.

Long March 7 will be capable of placing payloads weighing 13,500 kg (29,762 lb) into low Earth orbit and 5,500 kg (12,125 lb) into sun-synchronous orbit. The rocket is based on the human-rated Long March 2F booster.

CAST said China plans to launch two Beidou satellites to expand its space navigation constellation and the Gaofen 3 Earth observation spacecraft this year. It will also launch a communications satellite for Belarus.