China to launch space station module prototype

August 17, 2011 By Ray Sanders
During a 2010 presentation at the China Academy of Space Technology a full-scale model of Tiangong 1 was on display.

China’s space program is in the news again, this time with unconfirmed reports that the Tiangong 1 space lab may be launching into orbit sometime this year – possibly later this month.  Previous news reports cited potential launch dates in 2010 or 2011,  so this launch isn’t too far behind schedule.

What plans does have for their first orbital space station prototype?

The space lab, named “Tiangong” translates from Mandarin Chinese into English as “Heavenly Palace”.  Weighing just under 9 tons, the prototype module will orbit for two years. China will use the module to practice docking maneuvers and test orbital technologies during the module’s lifetime.

China plans to follow the Tiangong 1 orbital lab with two more lab launches over the next few years to continue testing systems and technologies before starting construction on their own space station in the 2020′s.  Based on China’s current plans, the Tiangong orbital labs will not be used in the Chinese space station.

Artists rendering of a Tiangong module performing a docking procedure with a Shenzhou spacecraft. Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

Many space analysts believe China’s lack of a perceived “space race” is a potential reason for the country’s slow, methodical space program build-up.  So far, China has only launched three manned space flights:  Shenzhou 5 and Shenzhou 6 ( 2003 and 2005, respectively). China’s first mission to include a spacewalk was Shenzhou 7 (2008).

While China is making great strides with their manned space program, there are no current plans to include China in the ongoing International Space Station project.  Despite several political and technological issues preventing China’s participation in the ISS, recent comments from officials at the China National Space Administration have indicated a willingness to allow other countries to visit the country’s station once it is operational.

Explore further: China plans first spacewalk in 2008

More information: If you’d like to learn more, Universe Today has previous coverage (Jan. 2010) on the Tiangong mission at: .

You can also visit the China National Space Administration’s website at:

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5 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2011
The chinese have always been slow and methodical.

They are not constrained by artificial constructs such as western capitalistic oligarchy and endless environmental or political wrangling.

Slow and steady wins the race.

You want to win a pissing contest, and then sit on your hands and do nothing for 40 years, call NASA.

You want real, long-term results, apparently call China.

Besides, they seem to own about half the U.S. debt now anyway, one way or another.

They aren't even spending their own money any more.

They can do this shit with the interest payments off our debts to them. Seeing as how our interest is like 5 times the cost of the ISS, that should go a pretty damn long way to making China the leader in space technology over the next several decades.

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