By John Herrman
Posting in Science
China's space station could be operational within ten years. Here's what we know about it.
While China has nominally operated a space program for more than 50 years, it's only in the last decade that the country was independently able to put a human in space. In 2003, the China National Space Administration managed to launch a Shenzhou spacecraft, along with a single crew member, out of the Earth's atmosphere. His successful reentry marked the beginning of the era of the "Taikonaut."
In 2011, the CNSA is looking forward--far forward--to the next step in its still-nascent manned space program. China, its leaders would like you to know, is serious about building a space station.
Today, the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) started soliciting names for its space station, in an effort to further popularize its renewed efforts and spending on manned space exploration. (Previously it has been referred to as the Tiangong station.) It's a fun idea, sure. But what about the actual plan? What will this station look like? When will it be ready? How will it be resupplied? Here's what we know so far:
The hardware: To a layperson, mockups of China's space station look a great deal like the International Space Station. It's comprised of multiple narrow sections connected at right angles, with protruding rectangular solar panels. This superficial resemblance is easily explained: a space station is built from many different modules, each completed on the ground and launched separately. In these early renderings, you can see a number of discrete units.
To put these numbers in context, the ISS weighs nearly 420 tons and measures in at over 100 meters in length. China's space station, even compared to the much smaller Mir, will be a bit of a runt.
The timeframe: Such estimations are virtually guaranteed to change, but here's the official line: The space station is due to be completed by "around 2020," which is when the ISS is tentatively scheduled to end its mission.
This is a fairly ambitious target, at least when viewed in the context of the leisurely pace at which Western space programs execute projects. But if China is willing to spend enough effort and money on the program, it's not an implausible estimate.
For reference, in-orbit construction of the ISS looks like it will end up taking just about 15 years. The station was announced in 1993, five years before in-orbit construction started. In-orbit construction on this project is scheduled to start within the year.
The extras: The two largest parties in the construction of the ISS both had preexisting technology available not just to build the station, but to maintain it, and to shuttle humans back and forth. On this front, China has a lot of work to do. According to Xinhua:
According to the schedule, a space module Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft will be launched in the latter half of this year in the first unmanned rendezvous and docking mission. Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X will be launched next year to dock with Tiangong-1. But problems in ensuring long-term missions for astronauts need to be overcome. Wang Zhaoyao, spokesman for the program, said that developing technology needed to guarantee mid-term missions in space (a stay of at least 20 days), and developing cargo supply technology will be among the tasks to be met during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period.
The Chinese space program has succeeded multiple times at sending men to space, but has yet to demonstrate the technology necessary to keep them there for long periods of time. Once fully developed, however, these new shuttles could serve at a catalyst for a broader expansion of China's space ambitions. In particular, they could help fulfill one of the country's stated ambitions: to visit the moon.
Image credit: China Daily
Apr 26, 2011
With Apollo 13 we saw how dumb it was to have incompatible systems. Are the Chinese going to build their new space vehicles with docking ports that are compatible with the ones in use by the US and Russia? There are many good reasons to do so and few to not. Terry Thomas Atlanta
Chinese?, everyone already knows that all the idiots who buy at Walmart etc. are paying for the research that NASA can't afford because real American retailers don't exist anymore. Keep up the good work, maybe the Chinese will buy SS and pay your retirement. Regards
That China is essentially reinventing the wheel is further evidence of the intransigence of that backwards government. The US, Russia and Japan all have cooperated and advanced a space platform (ISS). What does China hope to accomplish that the ISS countries have not done already? Military objectives can't be it. They are signatory to an international no-weapons-in-space treaty. Germany of the 1930s they are not. China is insular for the most part...unless the Olympics are in the mix.
Attention: China! At this time, the Western world has a working space station (ISS) from which we are planning moving out, and no longer servicing. Friday being the last delivery being made, they can move in very soon! Reasonable rental rates! A good deal for them, not having to lob tons more of materials into space; a good deal for us, we get to recoup some of the billions of dollars invested in it. Win-win!
Been there, done that, have the T-shirt (yawn). The Chinese seem to be good imitators, copiers, counterfeiters, impersonators, importers of technology, etc. but what have they done lately? Blow up satellites and spread more space junk (yeah, let's see how their space station holds up to the consequences of their past actions). Seriously, the corrupt government pushes "nationalism" very hard to overcome the humility of being continously routed by outsiders over the years ... the Jurchens, Hsiung-nu, Mongolians, Manchus, and then by the West in the 19th century. The Chinese "civilization" had two or three really bright periods, being the Han, Tang, and to some extent the Song Dynasties (in terms of cultural and artistic development). By the early 19th century China was melting down due to it's population explosion and inability to develop technology (or an educational system) capable of alleviating it. And there's a big question as to whether or not anything has really changed, example: look at how most major problems (like floods, SARS, etc) are handled now. Why does anyone think Chinese were fleeing for the greener pastures of South East Asia or Taiwan?And let's not even get into what effect the current influx of Malay Singaporeans are having on the racial Chinese mindset.
"flexes its intent to dominate space with weapons and technology" There was no mention of weapons in the piece, for good reason. Chinese use of space for military purposes is far behind that of the USA & will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Commercial use of space is, by nature, cost sensitive, and putting people into orbit is very expensive. The USAF is quietly developing a shuttle replacement through it's X-37B program to cover the military side. They don't need people in orbit full time. Science is best done free of nationalism so the ISS is a better site for that than a purely American space station. And by the way, China is investing heavily in green tech & in renewable energy too.
Good luck to the Chinese in moving forward with their space station and other plans. Interesting that they are developing their own space craft as they go. It is unfortunate that the US space program will need to rely on the kindness of other nations or corporations to go to space until someone with a long view can plan out a viable program to push the boundaries of both manned and unmanned space flight. What is really annoying is that Iran is working on becoming a space faring nation along with other nations.
Some other country can foot the bill and continue on.If humans ruin earth,then they will ruin space(already polluting it-space junk!)
There was a time this would have sent a chill down the spine of a free nation. A time America would have rallied our greatest minds and resources against a threat like this. But a yawn as we are caught with our pants down while the strongest Communist nation on the planet flexes its intent to dominate space with weapons and technology. We slashed our manned space program to crusade against mythical monsters of CO2 and global warming, with windmills and unicorns. Where is our Kennedy or Reagan? We have squandered the greatest nation given us by the greatest generation.