China Announces It Will Build Its Own Space Station Within 10 Years

By Valerie Ross | April 27, 2011 4:46 pm

ISSThe International Space Station

What’s the News: On Monday, China unveiled its plan to build a manned space station in the next decade. This announcement comes from a space program whose development has been, well, skyrocketing; China launched its first astronaut into Earth orbit in 2003 and completed its first spacewalk in 2008. If things go as planned, the station would be the third ever multi-module space station, after Russia’s Mir and the International Space Station.

What’s the Plan:

  • The space station is currently dubbed Tiangong, meaning “heavenly palace,” but that moniker may not be permanent; China’s space agency is taking suggestions for new names via email.
  • Designed for a three-person crew, the space station will consist of one core module and two lab units for conducting experiments in astronomy, biology (particularly as it pertains to space radiation), and microgravity.
  • Weighing in at 60 tons, Tiangong is significantly smaller than its predecessors (the ISS weighs 419 tons; Mir weighed 137).
  • Each module will have a maximum diameter of about 14 feet; the core module will be  nearly 60 feet long, and the two lab modules will be around 47 feet.
  • The space station’s core module will blast off first; the two lab modules will launch a while later, then dock with the core.
  • Tiangong’s docking hardware will be compatible with the docking hardware on the ISS, which will enable craft from other countries to rendezvous with the space station. “Scientists of all countries are welcome to participate in space science experimental research on China’s space station,” Jiang Guohua, chief engineer at the China Astronaut Research and Training Center, told
  • To hone the necessary technologies, China will launch three test spacecraft over the next decade to test the station’s components: the Tiangong-1 module later this year, and the Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 space labs in 2013 and 2015. Tiangong-2 will be designed to support three astronauts for 20 days; Tiangong-3, for 40.

What’s the Context:

  • As China’s manned spaceflight program expands, others are scaling back. NASA’s last space shuttle launch is set for June, and the ISS is set to operate only through 2020 (with a possible extension until 2028).
  • Only two other space stations have been launched without international help: Russia’s Salyut and the US’s Skylab, both in the early 1970’s.
  • Nothing, even in space, happens in a vacuum. One NASA advisor has called the project “a potent political symbol,” which would put China in a powerful—and autonomous—position in space.

Image: NASA

  • NCC-1701Z

    The Kung Pap is expected to be out of this world.

  • Bob Ofenhagn

    Good for them. Can’t wait for the US to get yanked into another pissing match. Where some see the power of China, can’t the rest of us see the power of humanity?

  • SBT

    Bob, if I could “like” your comment, I would. It looks like we (humanity) really need a Space Race to get ourselves moving. If the Chinese nudge us in the right direction, so much the better for the whole human race.

  • s

    They can afford it because they pay their workers peanuts. Unlike NASA engineers who command hefty salaries. I agree….this could be the “wake up” call for America to get its act together.

  • UB

    Good! The ISS will be out of commission within the decade. China has been open to other nation participants on the station to carry on space research. Germany and France are believed to be looking forward to it, but not sure what the response will be for the US since the US has blocked China from participating on the “International” Space Station.

  • Colin

    I’d believe more in the power of humanity if the Chinese government believed more in the power of humanity. Don’t forget… For all their trade liberalization they are still killing anyone who disagrees vocally with the government.

  • Mithril

    Given China’s track record on more terrestrial matters, they haven’t exactly been welcomed with open arms to participate on the ISS. Also given their track record, I’m not so sure this should be seen as being for the betterment of humanity.

  • Tim

    Looks kinda like Skylab.

  • Shannon

    China, the economic superpower..using their human resources right vision and mission. Their history tells they would achieve this. Whereever we go for shopping..we see the trade mark “made in china”. But this is also really dangerous based on the policies they have especially around the human rights and privacy.

  • Ricky Bobby

    As long as it is not to develop new weapon technology… then it may be a good thing for the human race… but we all know what power drives the world… ?

  • JasonS

    Awesome! Let them waste their money on a giant white elephant rather than us.

  • pcqI

    Awesome! it may be a good thing for the human race.

  • jnwood2517

    Um, yeah… if it’s like all the other Chinese products, it will be of poor quality and break down quickly 😛

    But seriously, this is not a good thing. China is an oppressive, authoritarian nation that places nationalistic ambitions over human needs. To have them lead the ‘race’ in anything is a testament to the free world’s failure — more accurately, the failure of our economies to produce and sustain innovation.

    So, our resource-allocation mechanisms must be fundamentally flawed. Though useful for a period in human history, they have become a liability. And this is proof.

    At the end of the day, if finances are the only thing holding Humanity back from scientific innovation and research… then money is the real problem.

    Capitalism and freedom are not synonyms.
    The sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll be able to move on…

  • EMagi

    Well, good! Looking at this from a humanity-as-a-whole perspective, there are different ways of government, just like there are different ways of living your life or lifestyles. Who is to say that one or another is better? Perhaps one way is more successful during a certain time period or set of conditions, and another would be more successful under a different set of conditions. The only consistant thing is change (lol) , and there will be a humanity-as-a- whole crisis every few hundred years, ie, cataclysmic event, disease/plague, unknown space event, etc., so if our form of government isn’t as successful during that time, I hope to h#ll there is another form of government around that is, for humanity’s sake, so that they can help humanity fight/deal with the crisis.
    It’s possible that a space station/exploration might be part of a solution for an unknown crisis. So, if our country isn’t maintaining a space station, I am glad that at least some country will be.

  • Michael Martin-Smith

    China has, in June 2012, announced her official decision to go to the Moon, and has completed Phase A of Saturn 5 class engines and a solar power satellite. Solar Power Satellites built from ET materials will foster a true space econopmy and an end to energy shortages and greenhouse gas production without the hazards of nuclear waste .

    China’s space programme is NOT a white elephant. The West needs to get its act together and join the race. Funny money and the cult of vapid celebrity are signs of decadence. We can and must take the exploration and development of Space seriously . There is no longterm future otherwise Nature poses several threats of mass extinction- that’s the bad news. The good news is that they only apply to a one planet civilisation. Our human future requires that we disperse our people and assets away from oine womb planet. INsofar as China’s space programme is a spur to us, we should welcome it, and aim to surpass it.

    A humane Earthbound civilisation is unsustainable. Greenery has no solution to cosmic impacts supervolcanism or pandemics , to name but some threats. Cosmic Diaspora is the way to go


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