China Plans Space Station & New Booster Launches in 2016

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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.

  • windbourne

    FH later this year, and hopefully, bigelow will start building their space station early next year. At the very least, I would love to see a ba330 with a tug to be used as a taxi.

  • PK Sink

    Crew Dragon test in December? (Maybe not.) Quick question: A tug to be used as a taxi from where to where?

  • DTARS

    What is the diameter of China’s space station? That looks like it comes from a pretty big rocket? Is the big section built into a faring? I recall a guy that use to talk about making real estate is space by building into fairings.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    I wonder when the USA is going to “keeping up with the Jones” and play “My spacestation is bigger than yours?”

  • DTARS

    Wish they would play my space station/ship as gravity and yours doesn’t.

  • Hug Doug

    The ISS already is bigger. Multiple individual modules on the ISS are bigger than this.

  • windbourne

    iss to space station alpha. I really think that once it is built, it becomes worthwhile moving cargo and ppl back and forth depending on orbits.

  • Kapitalist

    Why would they revive a 30 year old Salyut/Soyuz space station?
    China has great launch vehicles and Moon probes. They almost match those of other greater space agencies. But their human spaceflight program to me still seems pretty dismal. A bit like a reenactment of the Russian side of the space race as it was decades ago, but in slow motion.

    Maybe this huge consumer product export economy still lacks the knowhow about how to do real spaceflight?

  • PK Sink

    That is a beautiful thought. But moving cargo and people back and forth for what purpose?

  • PK Sink

    Say what you will, but they’re kicking butt on the European manned space program. Pathetic!

  • Kapitalist

    As if NASA has the ability to send any human to space. They have to kneel and beg to their enemy and space master Russia. Humiliating!

  • PK Sink

    Well, we used to be buddies, and you don’t mind asking your buddy for a ride. (But I do like the kneeling and begging imagery. Kinda kinky.)

  • delphinus100

    Depending on what you mean by Crew Dragon ‘test’ (not *with* crew):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFx7se_D82I

  • delphinus100

    “Why would they revive a 30 year old Salyut/Soyuz space station?”

    Because it would be theirs, not Russia’s. They seem to have no interest in major leapfrogging where they don’t have to.

    Still, like Shenzhou itself, it won’t be identical to its Russian roots. I doubt that two docking ports will be the only difference.

  • PK Sink

    Exactly. Maybe I should have said Dragon 2.0, though I’m not sure Space X uses that designation.

  • JS_faster

    Its an insight into how the Chinese think. They (Government and academics, the old generation still in charge) are very risk adverse, not only for themselves, but for others. Which is the other part, they care about harmony and face. So they are comfortable with only minor refinements of old Soviet systems because if their is a failure, they can all point back at the Russians. They are a favorite strawman anyway.

    This will change in the near future as Chinese exposed to Western culture and education start gaining authority and their whole space industry/establishment gains confidence. Innovation still isn’t their strong suit, but they are very patient and persistent when they decide to do something.

  • JS_faster

    ISS is a good HSF and Earth observation lab, but not a very good one for microgravity experiments or production. The humans keep bumping it and it needs constant maneuvering and reboost.

  • Hug Doug

    There’s some debate about the exact name… it was unveiled by Elon Musk as Dragon V2, but most just call it Dragon 2. I personally prefer to refer to it as Crew Dragon, to differentiate it from the Cargo Dragon. They are quite different spacecraft, SpaceX really should have a more distinctive name for it.

  • windbourne

    And that is why we need to get all of our human launchers going, along with a private space station.

  • PK Sink

    That’s right. Space X took some heat cause V2 was the name of the WW2 German rockets that pulverized England. I guess they’re scared to call it anything now. 😉

  • PK Sink

    I imagine Bigelow is going to have the same problems.

  • Hug Doug

    Frankly, I liked it for precisely that reason. Reclaim the name for something good.

    The V2 rocket, in spite of its origin and use, was the first practical long-range rocket (though we wouldn’t call it long-range now), was the first to travel into space (exceed 100 km in altitude), and is historically noteworthy for those reasons alone.

    They actually weren’t all that effective as a military weapon. Germany launched about 3,000 of them and killed about 3 people per missile launched. Given the enormous cost to develop (about $40 billion in today’s dollars) and produce them, (about $2.5 million per rocket in today’s dollars) it was a very expensive way to attack England. It’s also very likely the only weapon that killed more people in its construction than in its use (about 20,000 slave laborers brought in from concentration camps died or were killed while mass-producing V2 rockets). On the other hand, it was a terrifying weapon because of its random nature, the guidance wasn’t super-accurate and its range was determined by its fuel load. So when the engine ran out of fuel it then coasted to its target, falling down at supersonic speeds, giving no warning before impact.

  • JS_faster

    Its not really a problem if your station’s main purpose is to let tourists bounce around inside it and look out the windows…

  • PK Sink

    Excellent report. It is also noteworthy for Von Braun’s remark when asked what he thought about it’s performance. He said something like: “Works great. It just came down on the wrong planet.”

  • Hug Doug

    There are several great documentaries on the V2 that are available. I recently watched a couple of them on Netflix, also I’ve been reading “Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974” by Asif A. Siddiqui, which goes into detail on the early work the Soviets did with the captured V2 rocket parts, technical documentation, and German rocket scientists.

    I must confess I like the V2 a lot. It’s got graceful curves, huge fins, it’s the stereotypical “rocket” that people think of when they think of rockets. One of my favorite model rockets is a V2, it was a pain to build but it flies beautifully.

  • PK Sink

    I do hope that they’ll be getting an occasional researcher strolling through.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    I suspect we will end up with separate spacestations for tourists, shipping cargo and performing microgravity experiments.

    If he is paying for it Mr Bigelow is unlikely to like it. If someone else is paying then Bigelow Aerospace has sold 3 spacestations – he will like that.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    Science experiments are the job of NASA, NSF and the universities. Although buying an off the shelf spacestation may be useful. It can then be customised for the artificial gravity experiments.

    The BA330 has an internal diameter of 22 feet (6.7 m).
    The Olympus has a (??) diameter of 41.3 feet (12.6 m).

    These spacestations are big enough to have centrifuges spinning inside then. This may be cheaper than buying two modules which rotate externally.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    Possibly, but the expected life of the ISS may be less than the time required to develop a replacement, including getting political approval for the money.

  • Hug Doug

    Well, the expected lifespan of the ISS is either out to 2024 or 2028, depending on what the ISS member nations decide. By that time, NASA should be neck-deep in prep work for either going to the Moon with the ESA and the Russians, or to Mars (probably also with the ESA and the Russians), depending on what Congress decides (if they are capable of deciding anything). I’m not sure NASA is expecting a replacement space station, other than the possibility of renting some experiment racks on a Bigelow station, if they’ve got theirs up and operating by then. There’s also the possibility that the US will remove a newer module or two from the ISS before it is sent back to Earth, which may form the core of an outer space outpost somewhere.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    I believe that NASA will perform its exploration missions by space station hoping. It will build the transfer vehicles at a ship yard in LEO and add the mission astronauts at the Deep Space Habitat (DSH) in EML-1/2. The DSH will also act as a hanger and repair bay for lunar landers.

  • Hug Doug

    If the transfer vehicle is in LEO, why would they bother stopping at EML-1/2? Which would also not be a great location for storing lunar landers, those would require much less fuel if kept in lunar orbit.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    Trips to Mars: not worth stopping at EML-1/2 when leaving LEO but it is when returning. The MTV does not need to take a heat shield and can be refuelled permitting reuse. Slowing down a MTV that returns to LEO would use so much propellant that plans normally call for the large expensive vehicle to be discarded (except for a small capsule). Next trip the MTV is already at EML-1/2, and the people can be sent up in a small capsule.

    Trips to the Moon: EML-1 and EML-2 are in high lunar orbit. Gravity around the Moon is weird so a lot of station keeping propellant is needed in low lunar orbit. So to reuse them landers will have to be parked at a spacestation between missions. The spacestation can perform the station keeping for itself & the landers, repair them and provide astronauts with motel facilities for a couple of days when they change from Earth capsules to/from lunar landers. The spacestation is likely to be placed in a lunar orbit that is easy to get to from Earth such as RDO, EML-1 or EML-2.

  • Hug Doug

    Depends on the design of the Mars transfer vehicle. If it’s just a big dumb box full of supplies and living space for the crew, Orion could remain docked to it as a command module.

    If you want to make the MTV more complicated than that, more like a proper “spaceship,” then it might be worth saving it.

    There are several long-term stable lunar orbital slots that avoid mascon perturbation.

    We could discuss a lot more pros and cons, but a lot of this depends on NASA’s Mars or Moon mission architecture, none of which is even baselined yet.