China Plans Launch of Permanent Space Station Around 2018

Artist's conception of China's Tianhe-1 space station. (Credit: China Manned Space Engineering)
Artist’s conception of China’s Tianhe-1 space station. (Credit: China Manned Space Engineering)

China plans to launch the core of its permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018, with full assembling of the multi-module facility due to be complete about four years later, officials said last week.

The emerging space power is also developing two modules to dock with the core and several advanced technologies — including robotic arms and 3D printers — that will be placed aboard the station. Officials said the station will feature two robotic arms, two 30-meter solar panels and a Hubble-class telescope.

The space station will be serviced by crewed Shenzhou spacecraft capable of carrying up to three astronauts and Tianzhou cargo ships. The resupply ship will be tested for the first time next year with a flight to China’s Tiangong-2 space station.

Tianhe-1’s core module will be launched by China’s new Long March-5 heavy-lift booster, which will make its inaugural launch later this year. The launch vehicle is capable of lifting 25 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

Chinese engineers are busy developing Tianhe-1’s two robotic arms.

According to a source from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the main contractor for the Chinese space program, research on the project began in 2007, and so far experts have built a robotic arm over ten meters long. The arm is capable of both payload lifting and precision maneuvers while in space.

With seven motorized joints and no fixed ends, it could crawl along the surface of a spacecraft like an inchworm, the source said, adding that the robotic arm could reach literally “every corner of the spacecraft” on its own calculations via a route planning system and attached cameras.

Another CASC source, meanwhile, said scientists were in fact developing two robotic arm models for the core module and an experimental module of China’s planned space station, adding that the two arms could work in combination.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) also recently tested a microgravity 3D printer aboard a parabolic aircraft.

Duan Xuanming, head of 3D printing research center under CAS’s Chongqing Institute, said the printer has finished 93 zero gravity flying tests in France.

The printer can produce bigger space parts than the one sent to the International Space Station by NASA late last month.

The device could help China build a space station in 2020 and facilitate its operation and maintenance thereafter, said Duan.

In-orbit 3D printing is effective in helping with space station repair and maintenance and is essential for future deep space exploration, Duan said.


China plans to launch core module of space station around 2018:

China to launch ’Tianhe-1’ space station core module in 2018:

China developing robotic arms for space stations: sources:

China scientists develop space 3D printer:

  • passinglurker

    I don’t understand the “hubble class telescope” bit. it was my understanding that telescopes and manned space stations don’t mix because the people knocking about inside create vibrations that blur the pictures.

  • Sam Moore

    It’s meant to be co-orbital for easy servicing, not actually part of the station.

  • ReSpaceAge

    I think this is great, I have always thought that it was crazy for us not to invite the Chinese to the international Space Station. Most of the stuff I buy at Wal-Mart comes from China. Seems the turtle has been taking note from the hare. Maybe in the long run this is better. I hope they find many useful things to do up there. Seems this will provide competition for the commercial Caucasian space community, after ISS. Wouldn’t it be funny I Mr. Bigelow, (a hardcore China paranoid) found himself selling China BA 330s to enhance their Station. Yes the world/intersolar intersolar system is changing. Hopeful for the better, friendly competition to make getting to and living and working in space more affordable.

    Cool 🙂

  • windbourne

    I would think it should be easy enough to isolate that.

  • windbourne

    Zero chance of Bigelow selling a unit to China.
    He is correct in not doing that.
    And musk is correct in not selling or employing Chinese nationals.
    So is bezo WRT BO.

    Chinese ppl are friendly enough.
    Chinese gov is not.

  • windbourne

    Kind of funny. I expected Bigelow would have their alpha up there before China did. Now, come to find out, Bigelow stopped the R&d apparently, after their first layoff.
    Too bad. Had they kept that going, they would be launching at same time.
    Who knows, maybe NASA will buy a ba330 and use it for a habitat unit. That way, they can move to shifts .

  • mattmcc80

    China has one critical component that Bigelow doesn’t: a way to send people up to their stations. Bigelow ramped up and then cut back a couple times over the last decade hoping that a crew capsule would become available, and they’re still waiting.

  • Hug Doug

    It’s not. It’s really, really difficult to dampen vibrations in space. As an example, the workout equipment still shakes the station when they use it, in spite of it being as free-floating as they can design it to be. It’s also kinda funny to watch astronauts use them.

  • Hug Doug

    Another major issue is space stations generate quite a lot of gasses that then float around the vicinity. Thruster exhaust from the station and docking capsules, airlock venting, outgassing, etc.

  • windbourne

    So, now they have it within a year, and they are not ready.

  • windbourne

    Ok, to me, it makes sense that COBERT would not be totally isolated. After all, they had to attach the base to the station and then the tread part is attached one way or another to the base.
    The scope should be done differently. In particular, put it in a tube, that is inside of another larger tube and then use magnets/electromagnets to keep it centered, but not moving a whole amount. IOW, the scope itself would be mostly a free-flying unit inside of the main tube.
    And with the way that magnets shear, it is perfect for allowing slight sideway motion.

    I mean, it is just an idea.

  • mattmcc80

    That’s pretty unlikely. Even if both commercial crew partners have a maiden ISS flight in 2017, which is still far from certain given the budgetary environment, I can’t imagine how either company would be able to slot in a launch for Bigelow until well into 2018.

    And of course Bigelow still doesn’t have a customer to pay for his station, just a lot of MOU’s and handwaving about how NASA can help.