Larger Chinese space station to be constructed on orbit in the 2020s.
Credit: CMSA

China space officials are bullish on pressing forward with constructing in Earth orbit a 60-ton permanent space station in the 2020s. To do so, piloted space missions are to be carried out by the country from 2019 to 2022.

China’s space station plans have been bolstered by the Tianzhou-1/Tiangong-2 space lab refueling in obit – the first of three trial-runs done earlier this week – an effort that’s considered a milestone in their space station strategy.

The State Council Information Office held a press conference on Thursday to elaborate on the future construction of the country’s maiden space station.

 Unique features

In the press briefing, Wang Zhaoyao, director of China’s Manned Space Program Office, said the future space station boasts unique features.

“We have an innovation in co-orbiting flight, which brims with Chinese characteristics,” Wang said. “We have designed a new platform loaded with large-scale optical equipment for astronomical observation and studies, similar to the Hubble Telescope.”

Credit: CSIS

Co-orbiting telescope

Wang said this platform can fly with the space station in a co-orbiting way and dock with it when necessary.

“Astronauts in the station will refuel the platform to meet its high precision and stability need as well as its normal working conditions. The design has initiated an innovation in a distributive space station framework. Meanwhile it possesses Chinese characteristics,” Wang said at the news conference.

Wang noted that China will apply state-of-the-art scientific achievements and cutting-edge information and electronic technologies to the building of a 21st-century space station.

European Space Agency (ESA) has outlined a number of space cooperation projects.
Credit: CMSE/Wei Yan Juan

International cooperation

Wang spotlighted international cooperation as key to the station’s utilization.

“We engage in international cooperation with an open mind,” Wang said. “Over the past years, we have had wide cooperation with many countries, regions and institutions in the world, including the European Space Agency, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and also a slew of institutions and organizations.”

Wang added that China can make concerted efforts “in equipment research and development, carry out space experiments, share experiment facilities, or transform our experiment findings into tangible results.”

Payload capacity

In a CCTV-Plus story today, China’s Yang Baohua, vice president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said, “the Tianzhou-1 cargo ship has a maximum takeoff weight of 13.5 tons with a maximum payload capacity of 6.5 tons. Its designed capacity for propellant refueling reaches 2.1 tons, which is large.”

Yang noted that the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft has a greater payload capacity and ratio than other cargo ships in active service. “The payload ratio of Tianzhou-1 is nearly 0.5, reaching 0.48, that is very high and reflects strong loading capacity of the cargo ship,” he said.

Credit: CGTM

The payload capacity of Tianzhou-1 exceeds those of Russian and U.S. cargo ships in active service, whose capacities range between two to over three tons, Yang added.

“Tianzhou-1 is also able to provide some storage space for space station. It is also a platform of payloads for experiments. Besides propellant, the cargo ship is also carrying dozens of payloads that will meet our needs to implement long-period experimental tasks,” Yang said.

Given that the International Space Station is set to retire in 2024, the CCTV-Plus story noted that the Chinese space station will offer “a promising alternative,” and China then will be the only country with a permanent space station.

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