Chinas 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 isnt too far behind schedule.
What plans does China 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 modules 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 Chinas current plans, the Tiangong orbital labs will not be used in the Chinese space station.
Many space analysts believe Chinas lack of a perceived space race is a potential reason for the countrys 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). Chinas 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 Chinas 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 countrys space station once it is operational.
Explore further: China plans first spacewalk in 2008
More information: If youd like to learn more, Universe Today has previous coverage (Jan. 2010) on the Tiangong mission at: www.universetoday.com/51506/china-to-launch-space-station-in-2010-or-2011 .
You can also visit the China National Space Administrations website at: www.cnsa.gov.cn/n615709/cindex.html