China Enters the Space Station Era

On the eve of China Aerospace Day on April 23, 2019, the China Manned Space Engineering Office released a video of the development of the China Space Station for the first time.

This marks the China Manned Space Project’s entrance into the “space station era” as it continues to develop its space station technology. Around 2022, the Chinese space station “Tiangong” will officially complete the on-orbit construction task and become a national space laboratory for the long-term, in order to support large-scale, multidisciplinary space science experiments.

Looking back, since September 1992, the central government has approved the implementation of the China Manned Space Project and has developed a “three-step” development strategy. Despite being the largest national engineering project with the highest technical difficulty in China’s aerospace industry, the China Manned Space Project has achieved remarkable results so far.

LongMarch 7 Carrier Rocket with Tianzhou-1
LongMarch 7 Carrier Rocket with Tianzhou-1 (Source: CMS)

Currently, 12 spacecraft, Tiangong-1 Target Vehicle and Tiangong-2 Space Laboratory have been successfully launched. A total of 14 astronauts have been sent into space and returned safely. The project has made the following breakthroughs: from unmanned flight to manned flight, from one person-one day to many people-multiple days, from space exit to rendezvous and docking, from single-ship flight to stable operation of assembly, from short-term flights to medium-term residence of astronauts.

Building a space station to solve the problem of large-scale and long-term human-care is an important goal of the third step of manned space engineering.

Artist's concept of Tiangong 1.
Artist’s concept of Tiangong 1. (Source: CMS)
Shenzhou VIII spaceship arrived at the berth point 5km away from Tiangong I at 0:04 on November 3 after transfer orbit for five times.
Shenzhou VIII spaceship arrived at the berth point 5km away from Tiangong I at 0:04 on November 3 after transfer orbit for five times. (Source: CMS)
Sketch map for Tiangong I and Shenzhou VIII realizing rigid docking.
Sketch map for Tiangong I and Shenzhou VIII realizing rigid docking. (Source: CMS)

According to reports, the development and construction of China’s space station has been steadily advancing. China’s space station is named “Tiangong”. Its basic configuration includes the core module “Tianhe”, the experimental module I “Wentian” and the experimental module II “Mengtian”. Each section weighs about 20 tons. The space station has three rated crew members and up to six crew members during its short-term rotation period.

During the orbital operation of the space station, the Shenzhou manned spacecraft provides passenger transportation and the Tianzhou cargo spacecraft provides supply support.

The design life of the space station is 10 years, which can be further extended by maintenance and repairs as required.

The Tianhe module is used for the unified management and control of the space station and astronauts. It has three interfaces and two berths. The mooring port is used to assemble the Wentian module, Mengtian module and Tianhe module to form a space station assembly. The interface is used for Shenzhou spacecraft, Tianzhou spacecraft and other spacecraft to visit the space station.

At the same time, the space experimental cabinet in the sealed cabin, the experimental platform for exposure outside the cabin and the optical module for patrol in common orbit flight were designed to support on-orbit scientific research and application projects, including space astronomy, space life science and biotechnology, microgravity basic physics, space material science and other disciplines.

Presently, the key technology of the the space station’s main systems have been completed. The first flight of the Long March V’s carrier rocket B in the mission phase of the space station is expected to be organized and implemented in the first half of 2020.

According to mission planning, the construction of the space station on orbit will be completed around 2022.

Featured Image Source: CMS