Credit: China Manned Space Agency

As the United States debates the future of the International Space Station, China is orchestrating a campaign to spotlight its own space station – and open its airlocks to other nations for experimental purposes.

A version 1.0 handbook on the China Space Station (CSS) and its resources for international cooperation was issued May 28 by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and China Manned Space Agency.

In many ways, China’s approach to space station operations mirror’s the fundamentals of the International Space Station – with some exceptions.

Mission statement

The 28-page document explains that the mission of the CSS project is:

  • To develop technology for long-term manned space flight and study related medical issues to find long-term solutions for the healthy living and efficient work of astronauts and lay the foundations for future exploration in long-term manned space flight;
  • To build a national space laboratory of an internationally advanced level for large-scale science and technology experiments, educative purposes and promote international/regional cooperation to study and uncover significant scientific results and benefits;
  • To establish a complete manned spacecraft operation and its corresponding operation and management systems, and to train a high-quality engineering and management team to lay the foundations for the future development of manned space exploration.

Inclination, altitude, weight

Other areas of the handbook call attention to some key facts:

Credit: CMSA

The CSS is designed to operate in low-Earth orbit about 400km above the Earth’s surface, with an inclination of approximately 41°~43°.

The station’s three main module components are horizontally symmetrical and T-shaped. The total mass is approximately 66 tons, and may reach roughly 100 tons when docked with several manned spaceships and cargo vehicles.

In-orbit life span (after the assembly of the three modules) is in the range of 10 years. Number of crew members 3 (rated) or 6 astronauts (at most).

Optical Module System

Along with station, a main section of an Optical Module System would be launched into orbit separately and flies along the same orbit as the CSS. It can support multi-color photometry, seamless spectrum survey and Earth observation with multi-function optical capabilities. If necessary, it can dock with the CSS for refueling, equipment maintenance, payload equipment upgrade and other maintenance activities.

Experiment racks

A number of scientific experiment racks in the pressurized modules of the Space Station include a Human System Research Rack; Medical Sample Analysis Rack;

Ecological life Experiment Rack; Biotechnology Experiment Rack; Fluid Physics Experiment Rack; Two-Phase System Experiment Rack; High Temperature Materials Science Experiment Rack; Combustion Science Experiment Rack; and a Container-Free Materials Science Experiment Rack.

Life span extension

The in-orbit assembly of the basic configuration of the three modules of the China Space Station is planned to be completed around 2022 when the station is operational and able to carry out large-scale space science research.

Carrier rocket system for China Space Station.
Credit: CMSA

The life span of the Station can be further extended by maintenance, replacement, upgrading and expansion to enable longer term space science research. Primarily, extensible interfaces are reserved on the Space Station.

Extra modules

After completion of the basic configuration of the three modules, the inboard and outboard utilization support capabilities can be enhanced further by adding extra modules.

Secondly, outside the modules of the Space Station, many large-scale payload mounting points and extensible experiment platform interfaces are reserved, through which more payload support capability can be provided.

In addition, based on the need of space science research and international cooperation, the Space Station can meet the needs of evolving space science research through the maintenance, replacement and extension of payloads.

A United Nations/China Cooperation on Utilization of the China Space Station Application Form is available at:

To read the entire handbook, go to:

One Response to “China Space Station: Handbook Details Operations (Updated)”

  • G B Leatherwood says:

    Looks good; I hope it will accommodate one or more Bigelow inflatable habitats to make it a truly international operation.

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