Official Details 11-year Path to Developing China’s Own Space Station

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — A top Chinese space official shared new details of an ambitious human spaceflight agenda that includes plans to conduct on-orbit rendezvous and docking experiments and development of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle in preparation for assembling a 30-ton space station on orbit by 2022.

Wang Wenbao, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, said the effort would begin with the launch of a Tiangong 1 docking-target spacecraft slated for early 2011.

“According to our schedule, we will launch Tiangong 1 target spacecraft in the first half of 2011 and then the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft in the second half of 2011 to carry out China’s first docking and rendezvous of spacecraft in orbit,” Wang told an audience of government and industry officials at the 26th National Space Symposium here April 14.

Wang said in addition to serving as a platform for autonomous rendezvous and docking experiments, Tiangong 1 would form the basis of a “simple space laboratory” on orbit, conducting additional rendezvous and docking maneuvers with China’s Shenzhou 9 and 10 spacecraft in 2012.

Launch of the Tiangong 2 and Tiangong 3 space labs would follow, using crewed missions to conduct additional rendezvous and docking experiments with the space labs as well as regenerative life support and cargo supply experiments, Wang said.

“Between 2014 to 2016, we are planning to launch the Tiangong 3 space lab, two manned spacecraft and one cargo spacecraft to have docking and rendezvous with the target spacecraft in orbit and to carry out regenerative life support technology experiments as well as the space cargo supply experiments,” he said.

Wang said the 3.35-meter diameter space lab would weigh about 8.5 tons and have two sections.

“One is the experiments module, the other is the resource module, and the space lab will have the capability of in-orbit refueling of the hosting of fuel,” Wang said, adding that the space lab would operate at 400 kilometers with an inclination of 42 to 43 degrees relative to the equator.

Wang said the spacecraft and space labs would be launched on Long March 2F rockets.

From 2016 to 2022, China is planning to construct a 30-ton space station consisting of three pressurized modules to be launched on China’s heavy-lift rocket currently in development. Wang said the station will operate at 340 to 450 kilometers above the Earth at an inclination of 42 to 43 degrees.

“The crew members will be three, and the astronauts can stay in the station for long term to carry out in-space application experiments of a larger scale,” he said, adding that the station’s service life would be about 10 years.

Wang said China has established “a good working relationship” with space agencies in Russia, France, Germany and other countries, and that Beijing looks forward to working with the United States to pursue cooperative space science and manned exploration efforts in the future.

“In November 2009, President [Barack] Obama visited China, and both leaders signed the American communiqué among which it is specifically stated that the United States and China look forward to expanding discussions on space science cooperation and starting a dialogue on human spaceflight and space exploration based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and the mutual benefit,” Wang said, adding that China is looking forward to a visit from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden later this year.

“This forms an important foundation for both sides to carry out manned space cooperation,” he said.