China plans 2018 space station launch

The Chinese space station will be open to international modules in a similar way to the ISS (pictured). Image courtesy of Nasa
The Chinese space station will be open to international modules in a similar way to the ISS (image courtesy of Nasa).

Chinese officials have announced last week that the country will begin construction of its first space station in 2018.

The core module of this space station would be launched atop of China’s newly-developed Long March 5B rocket.

This would then be followed by two additional modules, with the full station expected to be completed by 2022.

This latest information on China’s notoriously secretive space program came via comments made by Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the China Manned Space Program, during the 66th International Astronautical Congress.

“Work [on the space station] is well under way,” said Zhou according to Space News. “All the modules and associated vehicles are under development.”

As well, Zhou went on to make a case for increased international collaboration on its planned space station.

Already the Chinese space agency has signed deals for collaboration with its European and Russian counterparts, with the ESA even beginning to teach its astronauts Chinese.

Furthermore, China is reportedly open to allowing foreign-built modules to dock with its new space station, in a similar fashion to the International Space Station (ISS).

Before it launches this full-scale space station, China will launch another space laboratory next year called Tiangong-2. This module will likely be used as a test bed for many of the docking technologies which will eventually be incorporated into the larger station.

Nasa eyes Chinese space collaboration

Alongside China’s apparent outreach to its international partners, new comments by Nasa suggest that it is considering opening up to China too.

Nasa chief Charles Bolden remarked that the current ban imposed by Congress on working with the Chinese is “only temporary” and that the US wanted to avoid being left out of post-ISS space ventures.

These comments were received positively by his Chinese counterpart who stated that China has no difficulties in working with other nations.

One key area in which the two countries could work together would be in the development of an international docking standard, allowing each nation’s craft to dock to any space station or module.