The core part of China’s house station is scheduled to launch within the subsequent a number of months, the primary of 11 missions carrying lab parts, cargo, and astronauts to the fledgling outpost over the following two years, in line with Chinese language house program officers.
The launch of the primary aspect of the Chinese language station is considered one of greater than 40 missions scheduled this 12 months by China Aerospace Science and Know-how Corp., or CASC, China’s largest state-owned aerospace contractor.
CASC’s subsidiaries construct China’s Lengthy March rockets, manufacture satellites, and oversee building of the Chinese language house station.
The China Nationwide House Administration, the nation’s house company, stated final month that the third section of the Chinese language human spaceflight program will start in earnest in 2021, constructing on earlier missions testing out the human-rated Shenzhou house transport car, spacewalk procedures, and docking programs wanted for constructing the full-scale house station.
The heavy-lift Lengthy March 5B rocket assigned to launch the house station’s Tianhe core module has accomplished testing at its manufacturing unit in Tianjin, China, and can quickly be delivered by transport ship to the Wenchang launch base on Hainan Island.
At Wenchang, the Lengthy March 5B rocket will probably be stacked on its cellular launch platform and mated with the Tianhe module, which measures greater than 54.Four ft (16.6 meters) lengthy, has a most diameter of round 13.eight ft (4.2 meters), and has a launch weight of roughly 49,600 kilos (22.5 metric tons).
Manufacturing and testing of the Tianhe module has additionally been accomplished in preparation for its launch this 12 months.
Earlier Lengthy March 5 launch campaigns required about two months from the time of the rocket’s arrival on the Wenchang spaceport till liftoff. If Chinese language groups comply with that precedent, the Lengthy March 5B launch with the Tianhe module may happen as quickly as this spring.
The Lengthy March 5B rocket is a variant of China’s Lengthy March 5 rocket household tailor-made to haul heavy payloads into low Earth orbit.
Flying with no second stage, the Lengthy March 5B will carry its payloads into house utilizing simply its core stage and 4 strap-on liquid-fueled boosters. Massive payloads will occupy the second stage’s quantity on the Lengthy March 5B, which might ship as much as 55,000 kilos (25 metric tons) of payload to low Earth orbit.
The Lengthy March 5B configuration accomplished its first demonstration flight in Could 2020, following delays stemming from a Lengthy March 5 launch failure in 2017 that additionally pushed again the schedule for launching the primary aspect of the Chinese language house station.
The 11 missions to kick off meeting of China’s house station embrace the three launch of three pressurized modules on Lengthy March 5B rockets, resupply flights utilizing Tianzhou cargo freighters launched on Lengthy March 7 rockets from Wenchang, the Shenzhou crew capsules launched on Lengthy March 2F rockets from Jiuquan, an inland spaceport within the Gobi Desert in China’s Interior Mongolia area.
The fully-assembled outpost will probably be about one-sixth the mass of the Worldwide House Station, and is nearer in dimension to Russia’s retired Mir station than the ISS.
China launched two Tiangong prototype house labs in 2011 and 2016.
The Tiangong 1 house lab hosted two Shenzhou crew in 2012 and 2013, and China’s most up-to-date human spaceflight mission — Shenzhou 11 — docked with the Tiangong 2 module in 2016.
China additionally launched a check flight of the Tianzhou provide ship, related in operate to Russia’s Progress or SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon capsule supporting the Worldwide House Station. The primary Tianzhou freighter took off on a Lengthy March 7 rocket in 2017 and docked with the Tiangong 2 house lab, proving out automated docking and in-orbit refueling expertise.
After the Tiangong pathfinders verified key applied sciences for the Chinese language house station, officers are shifting forward with integrating the advanced in low Earth orbit just a few hundred miles above Earth.
The Lengthy March 7 rocket for the Tianzhou 2 mission, the primary cargo supply flight to the Chinese language station, is present process last meeting in its manufacturing unit, in line with CASC. The Lengthy March 2F launcher for the Shenzhou 12 crew flight is present process last manufacturing unit exams, which ought to be accomplished quickly after the Chinese language New 12 months in February, officers stated.
A selected schedule for the launches of the Tianzhou 2 and Shenzhou 12 missions weren’t disclosed by Chinese language sources.
Chinese language officers have stated they’ve chosen crew members for the Shenzhou 12 mission, and astronaut coaching is underway. The astronauts will perform a number of spacewalks on their mission to hyperlink up with the Tianhe module in orbit.
CASC described the house station missions as “the highest precedence” on the group’s schedule this 12 months. Different main actions in China’s house program this 12 months embrace the arrival of the Tianwen 1 robotic mission in orbit round Mars in February, setting the stage for touchdown of a Chinese language rover on the Pink Planet within the Could timeframe.
In an announcement previewing Chinese language house program in 2021, officers additionally hinted at additional planning for exploration of the Moon by Chinese language astronauts. However the assertion supplied no particulars on the lunar mission planning, which follows China’s profitable robotic pattern return mission to the Moon in late 2020.
Different Chinese language launches anticipated so as to add as much as the greater than 40 missions in CASC’s schedule this 12 months embrace Lengthy March rocket flights to deploy climate satellites, analysis payloads, and Chinese language navy spacecraft in orbit.
There are additionally a handful of business launches in CASC’s backlog, together with missions to ship batches of small Earth-imaging satellites for the Argentine firm Satellogic.
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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.