Credit: CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space

 

China’s preparations for construction of that nation’s space station is picking up speed, striving to complete the plan for on-orbit construction of their orbiting outpost around 2022.

Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“In the two years from next year to the year after that, 11 missions will be conducted to complete the on-orbit construction of the Chinese space station. Subsequent missions will be carried out in high density. Astronauts will stay in orbit for long periods and carry out larger-scale space science experiments and technical experiments,” said Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office in a recent China Central Television (CCTV) interview.

Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

Plans and steps

The pace of space station construction is soon to quicken. China started the full-range development of its space station a decade ago.

“We have also been actively and steadily advancing this work in accordance with our plan and steps,” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program. “So far, we have made comprehensive breakthroughs in the development of key technologies. Next year, we will start the third step of manned spaceship project…the full execution of the space station construction,” Zhou added.

Prototype of the Tianhe core module. China’s space station is expected to be operational around 2022.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

At present, the “core capsule” is undergoing various ground-based experiments and tests to identify and control risks, assure the quality of the products, and solve problems in the ground-based development, explained Yang Hong, chief designer of China’s space station system with the China Academy of Space Technology in the CCTV video.

Yang Hong, chief designer of China’s space station system with the China Academy of Space Technology.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

 

One after another

According to plan, the Tianhe core module, Wentian experimental module and Mengtian experimental module will be launched in quick succession to form the basic structure of the space station in orbit.

During this period, China will also launch four Shenzhou piloted spacecrafts and four Tianzhou cargo spacecrafts, to facilitate the astronaut crew rotation and cargo replenishment.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“This is our first time to build such a big spaceship in line with the principle of steadiness, reliability and safety. After our core module is in orbit, we will launch cargo spacecraft and manned spacecraft one after another. We will further test our key technologies of the space station, including further verification of the technologies for the astronauts’ extravehicular activities,” reported Zhou.

Huang Weifen, chief designer of China Astronaut Research and Training Center.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Crew training

Since March 2017, astronaut training for space station duties have been underway.

As the duration of each mission is about three to six months, higher requirements have been raised for the astronauts’ physical and mental qualities, knowledge, and emergency response capabilities, according to CCTV.

“We have arranged for astronauts to participate in nearly a hundred engineering development and experimental activities, including man-spaceship, man-spaceship-ground, and man-spaceship-station-ground joint tests, underwater verification experiments for extravehicular activities, and efficacy evaluations,” said Huang Weifen, chief designer of China Astronaut Research and Training Center.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Third batch of astronauts

At this moment, all astronaut crews have been selected to perform the four missions during the space station construction phase.

“We have comprehensively considered many factors including the astronauts’ flight experience, current situation, their ages and psychological compatibility, and subsequent development,” Huang told CCTV. “Then, we have collectively coordinated four flight crews, with each crew consisting of three people, and the astronauts who had performed flight missions were assigned as commanders.”

On October 1, the third batch of 18 selected astronauts joined the astronaut team, including seven space pilots, seven space flight engineers, and four load experts.

They are expected to participate in various missions during the operational phase of China’s space station.

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