Starting in 2011, China will be among the elite few nations who can lay claim to haivng their own operational space stations. Named the Tiangong-1 (天宫-1) module, it will be China’s first foray into functional space stations.
The module is reported as being “outfitted with a docking port on its front and rear ends”, and will weigh in at roughly 8.5 tons.
Having a life expectancy set of only two years, Chinese space officials are hoping to use Tiangong-1 as a practice run that will hopefully lead to far heftier and longer lasting future projects:
“According to an April 26 Xinhua report, China’s goal is to build a 60-ton space station that would consist of three modules and also would make use of a cargo spaceship delivering supplies to the orbital complex…. The 60-ton Chinese station is approximately the same size as America’s first space station and is being launched at a comparable stage in the history of China’s human space flight program”
It’s an exciting time for the Chinese space program. Following Tiangong’s ascension into space, an unmanned spacecraft (Shenzhou 8) is expected to launch and hold the honor of being the country’s first space docking. Next year, Tiangong-1 will also host both the Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 space missions.
The station is currently undergoing final preparations in Gansu province, and is expected
to launch later this year.
To learn more about how Tiangong-1 really works, click here for a helpful infographic.
(h/t to Space.com)
By Patrick Keefe