One of China’s most adventurous space endeavours yet, is the multimodule dynamic space station, Tiangong, which translates to “Heavenly Palace”. It will be China’s first long term space station, and measures to be approximately one fifth of the International Space Station and about the same size as the Russian Space Station Mir. The whole station is planned to be launched part by part in phases, consisting of a total of 11 launches, and then assembled in space itself using latest technology and robotic arms.
How big is the Tiangong Space Station?
The Tiangong space station is designed to be a third generation modular space station, and will be roughly one fifth of the International Space Station, and will be place in a low orbit to the Earth. It is planned to be operational for at least 10-15 years from completion.
Currently 5 out of the 11 payloads have been deployed, including the main core module Tianhe, the first one to be launched, on 29 April 2021. All the spacecrafts have been and will be launched carried by the Long March series rockets, China’s flagship payload delivery rocket technology. All of the remaining 6 payloads, including the Wentian and Mengtian Laboratory Cabin Modules are planned to be launched by the end of this year, 2022 itself.
What is the purpose of Tiangong Space Station?
China is barred from the International space station, which is jointly operated and backed by US, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada. This is partly what motivated China to conduct space station trials using temporary modules Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, and now is working on Tiangong-3, or simply just the Tiangong Space Station. The low orbit space station will become China’s “eye in the sky” providing round the clock monitoring and development of experimental technology on board.
Tiangong space station will accommodate 3-6 astronauts at a time, who will work in extended shifts lasting several months. It is predicted to work for about 15 years. The program has already conducted six manned spaceflights and two experimental space lab missions. This year, two more manned missions, two space labs, and two robotic cargo flights will be launched as part of the construction, and preparation of the main space station module and docking with its sub part labs. The Tianzhou vessel will be used as a robotic cargo vessel to resupply the main space station.
The Chang’e Lunar Exploration mission also plans to use the Tiangong space station as a and rendezvous and resupply point. You can learn more about the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program here.
More Information on the Tiangong Space Station
The total cost of the Tiangong space station up until now has not yet been made public, but the International Space Station cost around US$118 billion to build and maintain for its first decade, which gives us room to estimate. It weighs around 100,000 kilograms, and sits at a low average orbital altitude of 389.2 kilometres. The space station module will be even equipped with various high power telescopes and research equipment as part of its science lab. It will be controlled from the main Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre, and has a robotic arm that is capable of grabbing hold of cargo spacecrafts and engage docking procedures by itself. This has raised concerns in the international community regarding its potential usage on other satellites in orbit, the concerns being brought to reality by the recent grappling and pulling of a defunct vessel by the SJ-21 satellite. You can learn more about this recent Chinese display of satellite maneuver here.
List of some other successful Space Stations
- Salyut 1 (Russia) – 1971
- Skylab (US) – 1973 to 1979
- Salyut 6 & 7 (Russia) – 1977-82 & 1982-91
- Mir (Russia) – 1986 to 2001
- International Space Station (Joint) – 1998 to present (8400+ days in orbit)
- Tiangong Space Station (China) – 2021 to present (280+ days in orbit)
Back in 2011, China was rejected by the US from joining the International Space Station because of the CNSA, China National Space Administration being a viewed as a very young organization, and doubted its capability to offer any useful contribution to the space station. Looking at China now, we can surely see the fruits of its work, improving its level of technological power and research progress. With the on-going success of the launch of the Tianhe core module and other parts of the Tiangong Space Station, China is developing rapidly and is on the way to achieve its goal of becoming a major superpower in space by 2030.
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