BEIJING — China plans tothis week in the latest significant step forward for its country’sloration program. The Tianhe, or “Heavenly “armony” module I,” is set to be hurtled into a Long March 5Brocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The launch could come as early as if all goes as planned. It would be the first of 11 missions to build and for a three-person crew. Here there’s the planned spChina’sgram.
11 MISSIONS ARE PLANNED TO COMPLETE THE SPACE STATION BY THE END OF 2022
Another ten launches will send up two more modules; four cargo supply shipments and four. At least 12 astronauts are , including veterans of previous flights, newcomers, and women.
When completed by late 2022, Tianhe is expected to weigh about 66 tons, a fraction of the size of the, which launched its first module in 1998 and will weigh about 450 tons when completed. Tianhe will have a docking port and will also be able to connect with a powerful Chinese . Theoretically, it could be expanded with more modules.
Tianhe’s Tianhe’s will initially be about the size of the American Skylabof the 1970s and the former Soviet/Russian Mir, which operated for more than 14 years after launching in 1986.
SPACE STATION A LONG-TERM GOAL
China began preparations for a space station in the early 1990s as its space program gained momentum. China has launched two experimental modules over the past decade in preparation for a permanent station. Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly “place-1,” was an “oned and burned up during an uncontrolled orbit loss. Its successor, Tiangong-2, was successfully taken out of orbit in 2018. It was excluded from the ISS program’s nature and close military ties.to U.S. objections to the Chinese
SPEEDY PROGRESS IN SPACE
After years of successful, China put its first astronaut into space in October 2003. It was only the third country to independently do so after the former Soviet Union and the . Since that Shenzhou 5 mission, China has sent other astronauts into orbit, placed crews on the original Tiangong station, and conducted a spacewalk.
It also has increased cooperation with space experts from other countries, including France, Sweden, Russia, and Italy. NASA must get permission from a reluctant Congress to engage in such contacts.
China also haswith crewless missions, particularly in lunar exploration, and has landed a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon. In December, it’s Chang’e 5 Chang’eeturned lunar rocks to Earth for the first the U.S. missions of the 1970s.
MARS ROVER AND FUTURE AMBITIONS
The Tianhe mission comes justbefore a Chinese probe is due to land on Mars, making China the third country to accomplish that after the former Soviet Union and the U.S. The Tianwen-1 space probe has been orbiting the red planet while collecting data. Its Zhurong rover will be looking for evidence of life.
Another Chinese program aims to collect soil from an asteroid, a key focus of Japan’s spJapan’sgram.
China plans another mission in 2024 tolunar samples and has said it wants to land people on the Moon and possibly build a scientific base there. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development. No timeline has been proposed for such projects.
HOW COMPETITIVE IS CHINA’S PRCHINA’SChina prChina’sas advanced in a steady, cautious manner on a carefully designed schedule, mainly avoiding the failures seen in the U.S. and Russian efforts when they were locked in intense competition during the headyof spaceflight. One recent setback came when a Long March 5 rocket failed in 2017 during the development of the Long March 5B variant used to put the Tianhe module into orbit, but engineers moved swiftly to fix the problem.