China Selects 18 Reserve Astronauts for Manned Space Program: State Media

China has selected a new group of 18 reserve astronauts for its manned space program as it enters the mission preparation stage, China’s state media Xinhua said.

The 18 reserve astronauts, including a female, consist of 7 spacecraft pilots, 7 space flight engineers and 4 payload experts. They were selected from 2,500 candidates, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

Chinese astronauts will have multiple responsibilities in the construction of the space station. They will conduct extravehicular tasks and work with mechanical arms to complete the installation, testing, adjustment and upgrading of payloads in orbit.

The mission preparation stage will not only deliver more scientific research output but also boost the development of commercial space programs, popular science education and international cooperation, said Hao Chun, director general of the CMSA, at a space forum in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, on Tuesday.

The completion of the space station will provide a broader scope for commercial space development and commercial operation can be a beneficial supplement of the station’s functioning, he added, according to Xinhua.

Space in China has historically been synonymous with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), a state-owned enterprise. This changed in 2014 as the Chinese government published Document 60, allowing for increased freedom of private investment into technologies such as satellite launches and manufacturing.

Over the past six years, more than 100 commercial space companies have been established in China, raising more than $1.85 billion, according to Euroconsult’s China Space Industry 2020 research report.

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In the 2020s, China’s commercial space programs will reach a turning point as commercial companies commence business operations at scale. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down most of China for the early part of the year, China’s space sector has proven surprisingly resilient, with 19 launch attempts, wrote Blaine Curcio, a senior affiliate consultant at Euroconsult.

China’s space station, expected to be completed around 2022, will operate in a low-Earth orbit at an altitude from 340 km to 450 km for more than 10 years, supporting large-scale scientific, technological and application experiments, Xinhua said.

After this mission, the core module “Tianhe” and two experimental capsules “Wentian” and “Mengtian”, responsible for carrying out in-orbit assembly and construction of the basic configuration of the space station, will be launched.