For building a space station for the future
With more and more space exploration on the books, China is setting up a new base for astronauts. Slated to be complete by the end of 2022, the 60-metric-ton Tiangong will be the only crewed orbital station apart from the International Space Station (ISS), which is likely to be retired in the next decade.
Tiangong is just one-fifth the mass of the ISS, but it’s still too big to be put into orbit all at once. So, China National Space Administration (CNSA) launched the station’s first core module in April 2021 and sent astronauts for a visit two months later. To complete the project, CNSA plans 11 launches that will include crewed missions and the delivery of two additional modules to the low Earth orbit station.
Once complete, Tiangong will be capable of hosting three astronauts for extended stays and will include a lab with 14 experiment racks and 50 external ports to study the environment in space. CNSA says it will be taking on everything from development of spacecraft rendezvous technology to the testing of next-gen orbit transportation vehicles.
If future construction proceeds as planned, CNSA might double the number of modules to six and hopes to add a powerful telescope to the station this decade.
The space station could also spark a new era of global collaboration: Russia has expressed interest in sending astronauts to Tiangong, as well as building a lunar base with China.