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.

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China Plans Space Station, Crew Launches for Later This Year

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

China will end a three-year hiatus in human spaceflight late this year with the launch of the two-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to the new Tiangong-2 space station, Chinese officials say. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.

Tiangong-2, which is set for launch sometime during the third quarter, is larger and more capable than the Tiangong-1 space station launched in 2011. The first station was visited by two three-person crews on missions lasting 12 and 15 days. The second crew landed in June 2013.

“We have specifically modified the interior of the new space lab to make it more livable for mid-term stays for our astronauts,” said Wang Zhongyang, a spokesman for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

“Unlike Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 will be our first genuine space lab,” he added.

Tiangong-2 is similar in design and size to the Soviet Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space stations flown in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The new Chinese station has docking ports at both ends to allow for resupply missions.

China plans to send up its new Tianzhou-1 supply ship during the first half of 2017 to verify propellant transfer and other key technologies. The cargo vehicle will be launched by the new medium-lift Long March-7 rocket, which is scheduled to make its inaugural flight later this year.

Chinese officials are not discussing follow-on missions to Tiangong-2. However, some reports say that a second human mission and an additional cargo ship would be launched to the space station in 2018.

Officials also announced plans to launch the core of the permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018. The permanent facility will have multiple docking ports to allow for the docking of additional modules. Assembly of the space station is expected to be completed around 2022.

China Plans to Significantly Boost Launch Rate

Long March launch
Long March launch

China is looking to significantly increase its launch rate through 2020.

China will launch about 150 of its Long March carrier rockets over the next five years, one of its space chiefs said on Friday, days ahead of celebrations marking the launch of the country’s first satellite 46 years ago.

“In the 13th Five-Year Plan period [2016-2020], we will see about 30 launches [of the Long March series] each year,” Chen Xuechuan, assistant president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told Xinhua.

There were 86 Long March missions in the five years from 2011 to 2015, and 48 from 2006 to 2010….

The launch of the SJ-10 retrievable scientific research satellite earlier this month marked the 226th mission of the Long March rocket family, and the pace of launches is accelerating.

“Our first 100 Long March missions took us 37 years. But it only took us seven years to complete the latest 100,” Chen said.

Thirty launches annually would be higher than China is planning more than 20 launches this year, including:

  • Tiangong-2 space station in the fall
  • Shenzhou-11 with two astronauts for a 30-day mission aboard the space station
  • Inaugural flights of the Long March 5 heavy lift rocket and the Long March 7 medium lift booster
  • a high-definition Earth observation satellite
  • two BeiDou navigation satellites.

China Plans Tiangong-2 Launch in 3rd Quarter

Video Caption: China will send its second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 into space in the third quarter of this year, which is expected to dock with a cargo ship scheduled to be launched in the first half of next year, sources from the manned space program said Sunday.

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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.

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China to Launch Second Space Station Next Year; Moon Plans Remain Uncertain

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

China plans to launch a larger space station next year that will have the capability of being resupplied by robotic cargo ships.

The Tianzhou-1, which literally means “heavenly vessel”, will carry propellants, living necessities for astronauts, research facilities and repair equipment to China’s second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2, said Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China’s manned space program.

Cargo transportation system is a key technology China must master and make breakthroughs to build its own space station, said Zhou who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body….

According to Zhou, Tianzhou-1 will be blasted off on top of a next-generation Long March-7 rocket, possibly from a new launch site in the southern Hainan Province.

Research on the Long March-5 carrier rocket – to be used to lift the Tiangong-2 lab into space – Tiangong-2’s payload, and selection of astronauts for the mission are currently “progressing in an orderly manner,” Zhou said.

Tiangong-2 will be larger than its predecessor and will resemble the Salyut space station first flown by the Soviet Union in the 1970’s. It will have docking ports on both ends.

Meanwhile, Zhou says that while China has no plans to send astronauts to the moon for the time being.

“With China’s current technologies of manned space flight and moon probe, we have the technology basis to realize the manned lunar mission,” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program.

Zhou…said that challenges and a lot of preparation precede the realization of the manned lunar mission.

For example, it requires the research and development of a bigger carrier rocket and the bigger and more sophisticated manned spacecraft, he added.

 

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.

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