In 2022, China hopes to break a new national launch record achieved last year while also completing its three-module space station and six associated missions. It plans to launch 140 spacecraft and complete its Tiangong space station this year, in addition to more than 50 space missions. In a first for China, six astronauts from two independent crews will carry out space missions in orbit at the same time. What other missions does China aim to complete, and how will it do so?
China’s achievements in 2021
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation’s (CASC) ambitious new objectives build on the country’s strong performance in 2021 when it launched the most number of space missions in the world. In 2021, China led the globe in a total number of launches with 55, with the United States in second place with 43 and Russia in third place with 25. According to the CASC document, a total of 146 launch missions were carried out globally last year, the largest number since 1957, highlighting the international aerospace industry’s strong growth in 2021. There were a total of 1,846 spacecrafts launched. (More on the success of China’s space program here.)
What are China’s plans for 2022?
China’s national plan has long emphasized the importance of the space sector. The State Council released a white paper titled “China’s Space Programme: A 2021 Perspective” in January, laying out the country’s space plans, and said it “aims to strengthen its space presence in an all-round manner”. This white paper outlines all of China’s goals for the coming 5 years, and it is very ambitious. (More on China’s official white paper here.)
China wants to launch two 22-ton modules, Wentian and Mengtian, on two Long March 5B rockets to complete the Tiangong space station by the end of the year. The two Tiangong modules will be launched into orbit by the China National Space Administration in the next months, though no exact date has been announced. They will dock with the Tianhe core module, which was launched in April of last year, and will be positioned into place by the station’s enormous robotic arm. According to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), Wentian will be the first to launch in the middle of the year, followed by Mengtian at the end of the year. (More on China’s Space Station Tiangong here.)
Some other important goals for Chinese Spaceflight in 2022
China has already launched two satellites this year, including Shiyan-13 on January 16, which is used for “space environment monitoring and associated technological tests,” according to the China National Space Administration. (More on China’s first satellite launch of 2022-Shiyan-13 here.)
The Shenzhou-14 spacecraft is set to fly in May, carrying a three-person crew to relieve the present crew of the Tianhe core module and prepare the Tiangong space station for the arrival of the two additional modules. In addition, the current three-person crew of the Tianhe core module is scheduled to return to Earth in March, marking the first time Chinese astronauts have spent six months in space.
According to Chinese authorities, the space station would have ample living space for three astronauts for longer stays and six astronauts for shorter stays once it is completed. China’s current six-month Shenzhou-13 mission is the country’s longest since sending a person into space in 2003. The crew has completed two spacewalks, the first of which was performed by a Chinese female astronaut, as well as testing with the station’s robotic service arm. The station uses this arm, as well as a second arm that was installed this year, to dock spacecraft.
This year, China plans to launch six space station missions, including two Tianzhou cargo spacecraft and two Shenzhou crewed flights to replenish the station’s crew. They will launch 140 spacecraft – satellites, crew, and Tiangong modules – out of 50 scheduled launches.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, which launched 48 Long March rockets last year, is responsible for these launches. After the 2021 display, whereby China accomplished 55 launches, including 48 by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, there are anticipated to be 60 launches scheduled from China this year.
China is also said to be working on a top-secret spacecraft. The China National Space Administration presented plans for manned lunar landings in the next five years, as well as numerous ideas to construct rocket engines to enable Chinese astronauts to land on the moon by 2030, in the white paper released last month by the CASC.