China has thrown the aerospace gauntlet at the rest of the world.
China Manned Space Agency announced over the weekend that they’ll be launching a space station into orbit–the country’s second one–sometime after June. The Tiangong 2, which will replace Tiangong 1, is actually the second of three planned phases. The first Tiangong was fairly bare bones, with a simple design that included two modules. In the past five years, the first space lab completed two dockings with the core module. It has also hosted two space crews who spent six and 10 days on the station.
The Tiangong 2 is a slightly more developed space laboratory. The launch will be followed by the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, which will carry a crew of two who will live on the space station for a few days. This will followed by cargo ship, Tianzhou 1, which will launch in 2017.
The big news is assuming they can successfully launch the Tiangong 2, the Chinese space agency is claiming they’ll have a fully functional, permanent, manned space station by 2022. This is Tiangong 3, which China expects to start in-orbit construction on in 2018.
Scientifically, this is just another notch in China’s space belt. The country has been really focusing on space, with 20 space missions for 2016. Given that the country didn’t launch a satellite until 1970, and didn’t put a Chinese astronaut in space until 2013, they had some catching up to do.
Politically, it raises some interesting questions. So far, the U.S. and other nations have worked collaboratively on the International Space Station. Even countries that don’t see eye to eye on Earth–looking at you, Russia–use the ISS as a nationality-free science zone. China, however, has not participated in the ISS, preferring to keep their space programs separate from the world’s. This development might accelerate the discussion about who “owns” space and how to divvy up an area already overcrowded with space junk.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense