While many people claim that China is only good at copying foreign technology, a trip to China will prove that they are also very good at something else: construction. China is the world’s largest construction site, and the level of sophistication and speed with which new projects are completed is truly extraordinary. However, the Chinese Government isn’t content to just build up its earthly ambitions, but rather plans to begin building in space too.
In a press conference yesterday the first Chinese astronaut to go to space, Yang Yiwei, announced that China was planning to accelerate its ambitions with regards to its Tiangong space station program. "We are going to launch the space lab Tiangong-2 in 2016, and then we will launch Shenzhou-11 and then Tianzhou-1 cargo spaceship to dock on the spacelab," he stated to an international audience from the Association of Space Explorers in Beijing.
This new space lab would follow the current Tiangong-1 space lab which is already in orbit around the earth. Earlier this year it was visited by 3 Chinese astronauts who, over the course of two weeks, undertook experiments and presented national broadcasts. This station however was only intended to be used as a proof of concept before the country moves on to bigger and better things.
Tiangong 2 will be larger than its predecessor, and allow for more detailed experiments to be carried out in space. China plans to send several groups of astronauts to this orbital laboratory to test different aspects of the craft, and hone the country’s skills in building space habitats.
From there the country is planning to go ahead and build an as-yet unnamed full-sized space station beginning in 2018. This space station is expected to be completed in 4 years by 2022 at roughly the same time that the International Space Station is due for retirement. It is likely that several international partners (with Russia as the most likely) will work with China to build craft capable of docking with this station.
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