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China to start building Tiangong Station in 2021, completion expected by 2022.

The construction of its modular Tiangong space station is preparing China for its next major leap in space exploration.

The Tiangong Orbital Space station is expected to be completed by 2022 following 11 missions, including three different modules launches, four cargo launches, and four crew launches, starting in 2021.

This step follows a phased approach to the development of human spaceflight, starting with the uncrewed test flight of a crew (Shenzhou-1 to Shenzhou-4). The launch of a crew mission was followed (Shenzhou-5 with one taikonaut), a space crew (Shenzhou-6 with 2 taikonauts and Shenzhou-7 with 3 taikonauts), and an extra-vehicle activity were carried out (Shenzhou-7).

China also managed to implement the Salyut-1 space module (Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2), develop rendezvous and docking (Shenzhou-8), and the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 space module occupation and long-term flight, and launch the freight (Tianzhou-1).

In just a couple of years, China has moved from a short-term crew space flight to a modular Space Station, allowing for six months of Earth space, reaching an international space station program which is similar in scale to that of the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe, Canada, and others, but not in China. China has been moving from short-term crew space flights.

Space Station of Tiangong

Tiangong will be an orbital laboratory of the type Mir, consisting of a central module that will be added gradually to additional modules.

In the beginning, the station will consist of Tianhe-1, the Wentian and Mengtian scientific modules, and the Xuntian.

The Long March-5B (Y2) rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre will orbit the Tianhe-1 module (Harmony of Heavens). The module is placed in orbit at a weight of approximately 20,000 kilograms and an average altitude of 393 kilometers at an orbit of 42 degrees and is the center of the Tiangong space station.

Tianhe-1, with the division of 4.2 m and 3.5 meters in diameter, is divided into two large cylindrical sections. It is 16.6 metres long with a living capacity of approximately 50 cubic metres in length. The core module of Tiangong is also made up of a resource segment and a cylinder area with a diameter of 2.8 metres, with five docking ports that enable new experimental modules to join.

The Core has a lifetime of 15 years for orbital maintenance and can accommodate three crew members. Tianhe-1 is fitted with his crew's life support systems.

The Wentian and Mengtian modules will be scientific modules with a mass of about 20,000 kg, 14.4 meters in length, and a diameter of 4.2 meters. The pressurized modules are developed based on experience from the Tiangong-2 orbital module and will be used to carry out experiments in the areas of life sciences, biotechnology, physics, materials sciences, microgravity, etc.

Apart from experiments in the pressurized interior, both modules can accommodate external experiments which will be exposed to space and fitted to the corresponding fuselages. The modules will be connected to the axial section of the Tianhe-1 Module. The modules will then be transported via a remote management system to the side port, either from within the space station or from the control center remotely.

The three initial modules will have a combined living area of 110 cubic meters.

In the event of problems with Tianhe-1, the Wentian module will be equipped with additional control systems. Mengtian is equipped with a special hatch to allow cargo and instruments to be entered or exited by the crew or by the remote manipulation system independently.

A total of 16 experimental racks will be available from the core module, the two experimental modules, and an external platform. The experimental racks measuring less than 500 kilograms will be approximately 1.6 meters high, 1 meter wide, and 0.9 meters deep.

A space telescope with a two-meter diameter mirror is another test module, Xuntian. The module is not connected to the Tiangong complex but to the station in orbit. For repair operations, Xuntian can be attached to the station. It will also be used to explore the mechanism of the universe's accelerated expansion, dark energy and dark matter, and the universe's origin and evolution.

Tianzhou cargo vehicles will be supplied regularly at the space station, the first being the space station that was launched for Tiangong-2 in April 2017.


The Tianhe-1 launch is scheduled for April 2021. On February 21st her launch vehicle reached Wenchang and preparations for the launch started soon thereafter.

Once the Tianhe-1 module is started, China is about to launch the LC201 Launch Complex of Wenchang Space Launch Centre's cargo vehicle Tianzhou-2 which will be placed in orbit via the Long March 7 (Y3) rocket. Also due to start up in April, Tianzhou-2 will autonomously dock with Tianhe-1.

All the crews of Tiangong will be ready to launch the first crew after the initial orbital commissioning period.

The launch of two launchers for crew missions in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center was scheduled to take place in the second week of February. Anything that goes as planned will launch Shenzhou-12 for a multi-month orbital mission aboard Jiuquan's launch complex LC43/91 with a long March-2F/G (Y12) rocket. The Shenzhou-12 is scheduled for launch in June and three crew members are expected to be in orbit for many months.

Both the cargo vehicle Tianzhou-3 and the spacecraft crewed Shenzhou-13 are scheduled to begin in 2021. The Long-March-7 (Y4) launcher from Wenchang will begin the Tianzhou-3 cargo truck in August and the Long-March-2F/G (Y13) rocket from Jiuquan will launch the Shenzhou-13 crew mission in September or October.

At this point, it is not clear whether or not the crew from Shenzhou-13 is still in orbit replacing that crew from Shenzhou-12, or whether it is returning to Earth before Shenzhou-13.

The Wentian Module, followed by the Mengtian module, will be the first of the two scientific modules to be put on orbit in 2022. Long March-5B rockets will both be launched from Wenchang.

The crew

It is not easy at this point to determine how crews will be composed of the next Chinese space missions. However, a general group of four crews can be defined for flights to be held in 2021 and 2022.

The group is composed of Nie Haisheng, Shenzhou-6 and Shenzhou-10, Deng Qingming, Liu Boming (Shenzhou-7), Liu Wang (Shenzhou-9), Zhang Xiaoguang (Shenzhou-10), Chen Dong (Shenzhou-11), Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe (Shenzhou-9).

Some older taikonauts have gone out of flight, but Jing Haipeng (who has participated in the missions to Shenzhou 7, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-11) and Fei Junlong (Shenzhou-6) and Zhai Zhigang remain in reserve (Shenzhou-7).

It was rumoured over a very long time that the head of a mission to the space resort of Tiangong was one of the two female taikonauts (Liu Wang or Wang Yaping). Several photos of Wang Yaping have appeared in training in the last weeks. Wang Yaping also spoke in a Xinhua article about EVA training. It is therefore quite possible that she will be on one of two first missions in Tiangong and that one of those missions will probably be the commander's seat.

During its stay in orbit, the crew conducts various extra-vehicle activities for installing the robotic arm and other equipment and prepares the station for new modules. Shenzhou-12 is going to continue for 90 days.

Deng Qingming was a member of the backup crew for three missions and may be part of one of the two missions which will be launched in 2021.

The compound Chen Dong, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, were said to be the Shenzhou-12 crew, having distributed a photo of Wang Yaping during a training session (provided by Tony Quine).

If the Shenzhou-12 mission lasts for approximately 90 days, this would allow Shenzhou-13 to start its mission in September or October with a long stay of around 180 days orbiting the Shenzhou-14 crew and, as a result, watching new modules arrive.

First Tiangong experiments

Nine experiments were selected for use on the Tiangong Space Station in the space cooperation between China and several nations. The experiment selection process was organized with the Office for Outside Space Affairs of the United Nations (UNOOSA).

These experiences cover astronomy, fluid physics, and combustion of microgravity, earth science, space technology, and space life and technology.

Gamma-rays will be examined in experiments in the field of astronomy and spectroscopically investigating nebular gas explosions (Switzerland, Poland, Germany, and China) (India and Russia). Microgravity fluid physics and burn experiments will investigate the behavior of microgravity partial miscible fluids (India and Belgium), use a high-performance Micro 2-phase cooling system for space applications (Italy and Kenya) (China and Japan).

The earth science research experiment will use the mid-infrared Earth observation platform from Mexico and will explore the development of Gaas multi-connection solar cells for space applications in the Space Technological Experiment (Saudi Arabia).

The experiments in space life sciences and technology study the effects of microgravity on the growth and biofilm production of disease-causing bacteria in space (Norway, France, The Netherlands, and Belgium) (Peru and Spain).


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