Here is how the core module of the Chinese Space Station Tianhe will look like in orbit. Credit: Xinhua/Liang Xu

China Begins Construction Of Its Futuristic Space Station

The achievements of the Chinese Space Agency from this year will be followed by massive launches in 2021 and 2022.

There is no doubt that China has great ambitions for its space programs, and this is evident from the incredible progress they have made over the last decade. Especially in recent months, China has been constantly in the news about space, day after day. Now, it is time to discuss the next massive launch by the China National Space Administration – the impressive Chinese modular space station.

Construction of the Chinese Space Station should be over by 2022

The Tianhe main module during tests in 2018. Credit: CCTV
The Tianhe main module during tests in 2018. Credit: CCTV

Construction of the orbital station will begin after a nearly three-year delay. The complex was expected to be completed in orbit in 2018-2019. But in 2017, the Long March 5 heavy launch vehicle suffered a devastating crash, leading to long delays in China’s space projects. 

Thankfully, at the end of 2019, the rocket was successfully returned to operation, which allowed the launch of the first Chinese robotic mission to Mars in the summer of this year, and this December was China’s first two-way mission to the moon, related to taking samples and their delivery to Earth. 

These two unmanned projects were a real triumph for Chinese astronautics, but the real expansion into space is yet to come – not with robots, but with humans. 

On December 17, the day after the return of the Chang’e 5 lunar mission, a special press conference was held, during which the Chinese said that a marathon of a total of 11 launches was planned for the next two years. 

At the beginning of 2021, the first module of the Tianhe space station will be launched, followed by the sending of payload, crews, and additional modules. By the end of 2022, the construction of the station should be completed. 

China has some experience with the operation of miniature stations. In 2011, the first one was launched, named “Tiangong-1”, and in 2016 it was followed by the second “Tiangong-2”.

However, these stations were not larger than the size of a small apartment or a large room. The new Chinese space station will be significantly larger with enough space to host research and experiments of all kinds. 

Real-scale model of the core module of the Chinese space station. Credit: Xinhua/Liang Xu
Real-scale model of the core module of the Chinese space station. Credit: Xinhua/Liang Xu

Externally, the station will resemble the shape of the letter “T”. The main module “Tianhe” will be located in the center, and two laboratory modules “Wentian” and “Mentyan” will be attached to it. The total weight of the complex will amount to about 66 tons.

“Tianhe” will be 16.6 meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter. This is the largest spacecraft ever built by China. The module will provide the main living space for astronauts of 50 cubic meters, and after attaching the laboratory modules it will increase to 110 cubic meters. There will also be three ports for spacecraft of the cargo “Tianzhou” and manned “Shenzhou” types. 

It is also interesting that another module will be positioned near the station (although not connected to it), to which a 2-meter optical telescope is mounted. This telescope is expected to operate for at least 10 years although in most cases, telescopes continue to operate long after the initial calculations.

Our Take on the Subject

If the project with the station and telescope is realized, it could bring China to the forefront of astronomical research. 

In the event that the iconic American Hubble Space Telescope is prematurely retired or the new James Webb Space Telescope is not launched and fails next year, the Chinese may have the most powerful astronomical instrument in space.

It is worth recalling here that China has already taken a step forward in terms of astronomy. A few weeks ago, the legendary Arecibo radio telescope collapsed after more than half a century of service. But back in 2019, the Chinese officially launched their own telescope “Fast”, which is better and more powerful than “Arecibo”.

Of course, the Chinese space station will be a center not only for astronomical research, but it will also make a variety of experiments in the fields of physics, biotechnology, and medicine. The “Wentian” and “Mengtian” modules will also have many racks, allowing different experiments to be performed simultaneously. 

So far, the Chinese have made a total of six manned space flights, and all astronauts who have flown so far are of military origin. With the commissioning of the new orbital station, not only the military but also scientists and engineers will start flying. This will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect on scientific production.

Not to mention that the Chinese space station has been designed to allow further extension which means that additional modules may be added in the future.

Overall, what awaits us is an exciting new year, and the Chinese definitely have a lot to show us!


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Sources:

11, A., & Jones, A. (2019, September 12). Chinese space station core module passes review but faces delays. Retrieved December 18, 2020, from https://spacenews.com/chinese-space-station-core-module-passes-review-but-faces-delays/

2, A., & Jones, A. (2020, October 02). China selects 18 new astronauts ahead of space station construction.

China Focus: More details of China’s space station unveiled. (n.d.).

Chinese large modular space station. (2020, October 16).

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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