Chinese To Fly Their Own Space Station
The Chinese don’t do anything quickly. They’re known for taking slow, measured steps toward any goal they set, including space. What’s more, they are not given to making extravagant claims, so when their former chief commander and manned space program designer Gu Yidong said Tuesday in the Chinese Sina News that they intend to launch a series of space laboratories in the 2010-2015 time frame, we can take it seriously.
China has been making steady progress in manned space flight. Last September they conducted their third manned mission into space when they launched mission Command Zhai Zhigang, Descent Module Pilot Jing Haipeng and Orbital Module Pilot Liu Boming aboard the Shenzhou VII spacecraft into low earth orbit. The highlight of the flight was their first extravehicular activity (EVA) conducted by Zhigang and Boming.
The Shenzhou VII flight began phase two of a three-phase program called Project-921. Phase 3 will culminate in the first, full-scale Chinese space station by 2020.
Their next step is to place the eight-ton laboratory module Tiangong I or “Heavenly Palace I” into orbit, now scheduled for launch late next year. Following that will come two more stations: the Tiangong II and Tiangong III. These orbiting laboratories will purportedly be used as testbeds for the Chinese to develop docking technology, cargo transfer and resupply operations, life support technology and gain knowledge on human physiological response associated with long-term space exposure.
Some of this next-generation space hardware will be launched from the Wenchang Launch Center, currently under construction on Hainan Island off the southern coast of China in an area separating the South China Sea from the Gulf of Tongking.
If Ouyang Ziyuan, a research professor at the Institute of Geochemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences, gets his way, China won’t stop at low earth orbit. In a book titled Academicians Envisaging The 21st Century, he presents an essay in which he promotes the idea of a lunar colony replete with experimental factories and farms, and in which its inhabitants gradually develop a moon city and realize the dream of a self-sufficient “Earth village” by 2020. Former Director of the China National Space Administration Luan Enjie and chief designer of Chinese rockets, Long Lehao, have given speeches describing how China will venture on to the moon and Mars. Once they have Project 921 Phase 3 on orbit and operating, they will have more than enough momentum to carry them on to those destinations.