Putting in place China’s space station will offer many new challenges.
Credit: CCTV/screengrab

Over a dozen experiment proposals from scientists around the world have been shortlisted for possible flight onboard China’s future space station.

China Daily has reported that 18 ideas are being assessed, with the final result to be detailed in June.

According to government plans, China will start piecing together the country’s space station around 2020.

Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the nation’s manned space program in April, explained that the multi-module space station, named Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, will comprise three main parts: a core module attached to two space labs, combining for a weight of 66 metric tons.

The Tianhe core module for China’s Space Station undergoes ground testing.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab

Call for partnership

Last May, the China Manned Space Agency, in collaboration with the United Nation’s Office for Outer Space Affairs issued the call for partnership opportunities on the station for scientists around the world.

By October, 42 applications from 27 countries had been submitted, with proposals extending across nine areas, including space medicine, space life science, and fundamental physics, the China Daily story explains.

Artist view of China’s space station. Credit: CMSE

An expert panel was formed by the UN office and China’s space agency to evaluate the candidates and pick the 18 to be shortlisted. Application teams are now working out a project implementation plan with China’s technical support.

Core module

China’s space station build-up will first see use of a Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket to orbit the outpost’s core module. About four crewed spaceflights will then be made sending astronauts to assemble the station.

The space station is expected to be fully operational around 2022 and is to operate for at least 10 years.

The China Daily also notes that, in 2024 the country’s orbiting complex may become the world’s only space station if the U.S. International Space Station is retired as planned.

Credit: CMSA


A version 1.0 handbook on the China Space Station (CSS) and its resources for international cooperation was issued May 28 of last year 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.

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.

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer joined Chinese colleagues in Yantai, China in August 2017 to take part in their sea survival training.
Returning from space in a Chinese capsule, astronauts need to be prepared for any eventuality – including landing in the sea. Water survival is a staple of all astronaut training but this is the first time non-Chinese astronauts have taken part.
Credit: ESA–Stephane Corvaja, 2017

Inclination, altitude, weight

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

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.

This system 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.

Robot arm under development for use in China’s station effort.
Credit: CGTN/screengrab

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.

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.

Credit: CMSE

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.

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


To read the entire handbook, go to:


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