China unveils new 'Heavenly Palace' space station as ISS days numbered

November 6, 2018 by Ludovic Ehret
China unveiled a partial model of its manned space station at an aerospace fair in Zhuhai

China unveiled on Tuesday a replica of its first permanently crewed space station, which would replace the international community's orbiting laboratory and symbolises the country's major ambitions beyond Earth.

The 17-metre (55-foot) core module was a star attraction at the biennial Airshow China in the southern coastal city of Zhuhai, the country's main aerospace industry exhibition.

Outside, China's J-10 fighter jet and J-20 stealth fighter wowed spectators as they zoomed across Zhuhai's sky. Back inside, the country displayed its fleet of drones and other military hardware.

Crowds gathered around the cylindrical space station module representing the living and working quarters of the Tiangong—or "Heavenly Palace"—which will also have two other modules for scientific experiments and will be equipped with solar panels.

Three astronauts will be permanently stationed in the 60-tonne orbiting lab, which will enable the crew to conduct biological and microgravity research.

Assembly is expected to be completed around 2022 and the station would have a lifespan of around 10 years.

The International Space Station—a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan—has been in operation since 1998 but is due to be retired in 2024.

Once the International Space Station is retired in 2024, China will be the only country with manned space station

China will then have the only space station in orbit, though it will be much smaller than the ISS which weighs 400 tonnes and is as large as a football pitch.

Billions spent

The country announced in May that the lab would be open to "all countries" to conduct science experiments.

"There is no doubt that China will use its station in a similar way as the ISS partners are using their outpost: research, technology and as a stepping-stone for deep-space exploration," said Chen Lan, analyst at, a website specialised in the Chinese space programme.

Research institutes, universities, and public and private companies have been invited to propose projects. Some 40 plans from 27 countries and regions have been received, according to state media.

The European Space Agency has sent astronauts to China to receive training in order to be ready to work inside the Chinese space station once it is launched.

"I'm sure over time China will be successful developing partnerships," said Bill Ostrove, space analyst with US-based Forecast International consultancy.

The 17 metre long core module will be significantly smaller than the ISS
"Many countries, and increasingly private companies and universities, have space programmes, but cannot afford to build their own ," he said.

"The ability to put payloads and experiments on a human spaceflight platform is extremely valuable."

Beijing is pouring billions into its military-run space programme, with plans to send humans to the Moon in the near future.

Citing China as a threat, US President Donald Trump has launched plans to create a new "Space Force" to give his country dominance over rivals in space.

Diverse space market

But China's space programme has encountered some glitches.

A space lab dubbed Tiangong-1 disintegrated as it plunged back to Earth in early April, two years after it ceased functioning.

China says its space station will be open to all countries

Chinese authorities denied that the lab—which was placed in orbit in September 2011 as a testing ground for the permanent —was out of control.

A second lab, the Tiangong-2, was launched into orbit in 2016.

"Despite a lot of talk of the opposite, the United States remains the most dominant power in space right now," Ostrove said.

"The most likely scenario for the future is that China will emerge as one of the major space powers," he said.

But Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and India will continue to play "major roles" in space exploration, while private firms are becoming increasingly important in the sector, Ostrove added.

"The market is becoming more diverse," he said, "so it will be difficult for one or two countries or companies to dominate the field in the way the US and Soviet Union did during the Cold War."

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Spaced out Engineer
not rated yet Nov 06, 2018
"United States remains the most dominant power in space"
Without QKD via satellites, but talk of maser torture. Fucking idiots should respect what is there before trying to 'dominate' with power. Patience is power.
5 / 5 (3) Nov 06, 2018
I think China's small spacelab could be a viable base design.

Instead of hulking big expensive structures. With all the problems of getting up into orbit?

Multiple launches of less expensive capsules of 100 tons or less is a more comservative and readily adaptable program.

Once they are up there? No reason they can't be chivvied into close proximity? Maybe even clustering together to achieve an economical super-structure?
5 / 5 (2) Nov 06, 2018
"The International Space Station—... —has been in operation since 1998 but is due to be retired in 2024."

This is a complete and utter lie. NASA considers it to be able to fly at the very least until 2028, and funding will be appropriated for that when the time comes. Or they will seek commercial partners to try and run it by then. There are absolutely no plans for retiring the ISS.
2 / 5 (4) Nov 07, 2018
its one thing to build a plastic and glue model versus putting a real station with humans in orbit for years.
routine hyperbola from China.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (5) Nov 07, 2018
Doubtless the "Heavenly Palace" will contain nuclear weapons the Gods told them to put up there. Just like the islands in the China Sea.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2018
sid, the decision of the length of service for the ISS will be decided by corporations who want to sell a replacement. All those lucrative contractual overruns & under-the-table cut for many a congressional re-election campaign.

The "bureaucrats" & "regulators" can chatter all they want. But they haven't the authority to decide when to take a crap. Without approval of influential politicians.

Holoman, would you allow public access to the real space vehicle? Getting their grubby fingerprints all over the delicate machinery?
5 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2018
DS, you've fallen down the rabbit hole & your pinafore has flown up to block your vision!

Considering how little power the CCP has left after all the concessions they have made to China's burgeoning plutocracy?

Control of nuclear weapons is one of their remaining fig-leaves to claim being the legitimate authority,

How could they retain command & control without a strong security force present? Where would they put them?

Considering that the occupants will be scientists and engineers? At the lop of the gravity well?
Why ever would you believe that the PLA command would ever trust them?

In addition, the Russians would shit a brick having Chinese nukes overhead.

These are not world-ignorant peasants serving in China's space program. They have the smarts to figure an attack against another nuclear power would be be MAD. But, if the CCP congress was in session? With most of the ranking national authority figures?

Expect the "Mandate of Heaven" to strike hard!
not rated yet Nov 09, 2018
Not enough power or space to do any meaningful work.
1 / 5 (2) Nov 10, 2018
So this can be the first real international space station? Made by China, but free for everyone.

Btw, conspiracy theories - "maser torture"? - are so 00's.
not rated yet Nov 12, 2018
600 million Chinese people are crapping in a hole in the ground for lack of modern public sanitation

Begs the question, what will the facilities look like, in space?
not rated yet Nov 13, 2018
Smurf, your bigotry and fear are showing. Someone (probably a Chinese factory worker) provided you with that porcelain throne you reign from. Because your fat, white ass is too delicate to crap directly into the hole underneath your toilet.
not rated yet Nov 13, 2018
Not enough power or space to do any meaningful work
Building stations is practice for assembling interplanetary vehicles and larger stations. They're test platforms for engg design, assembly techniques, materials suitability, and equipt function.

China wants to go places just like the rest of us. They need to hone their skills in orbit like everybody else before venturing farther out.

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