Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 31 March 2020

China takes first steps towards new space station with advanced rocket launch

A mission in April will take an experimental space lab to space

The construction of China’s much-anticipated space station is set to begin as the country prepares to launch a rocket carrying a trial version of a habitable floating laboratory.

China is the third country to put its astronauts – called taikonauts – in space with their own capabilities, but its ambitious plans to build a space station, a goal they have been chasing since the 1990s, is still underway.

In April, the China Manned Space Agency will use its Long March-5B rocket to send the experimental spaceship to low-earth orbit, China’s state-run news agency Xinhua said.

There will be more than 10 missions using the rockets from the Long March-5 family, China’s largest carrier rocket. It will send capsules of the space station and large spacecrafts in order to complete the station by 2022. The station would be 20 per cent of the size of the International Space Station.

The Chinese space agency has been testing life support, resupplying capabilities and refuelling with prototype space labs in the past few years.

It launched the Tiangong-1 - Heavenly Palace - space module in 2011, which experienced an uncontrolled re-entry in 2018 and burned up in earth’s atmosphere. Tiangong-2 was an advanced version launched in 2016 – it served its purpose and was purposely brought down by China in 2019.

Both of these space labs were meant to help develop the necessary technology for the 20-metric-tonne modules for the Chinese Space Station.

The space agency is now faced with the daunting task of mastering technologies for in-orbit assembly and construction of large and complex spacecrafts.

China will also experience long-term human spaceflights for the first time. It has sent 11 taikonauts to space previously, but only for short-duration missions.

The experimental spaceship and rocket are currently undergoing tests at the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the coast of south China's island province of Hainan.

If China is successful, it will join an elite club of countries that have access to a habitable space station for long-term flights.

The International Space Station (ISS) is a programme by the US, Russia, Japan, 22 countries in Europe and Canada. It became operational in 2000. About $150billion has been spent over the years to build and maintain the station.

Accessing the station is difficult for non-ISS partners as there are limited seats on spacecrafts that can take humans to the ISS. Partner countries get dedicated seats on Russia’s Soyuz each year – the quantity depends on the scale of investment each nation has.

India also announced plans to build its own space station by 2022.

Pakistan also plans to send an astronaut to space by 2022, with the help of China.

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Updated: February 23, 2020 06:26 PM

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