China’s space agency has moved forward plans to build the first multi-module Chinese space station.
Announced during the recent Two Sessions governmental congress in Beijing, construction of the new Chinese space station will begin in just 3 years time.
Zhang Bonan, the chief designer of China’s manned spacecraft system explained in the People’s Daily, that the first parts of the station will be launched in 2018 with the entire project to be completed by 2022. This brings forward the original time frame for launch forward by several years.
While official plans for the design of the Chinese space station have yet to be released, local media has reported that the station will be multi-cabin and feature both scientific and living quarters. They also hope to allow international scientists aboard the space station in a similar manner to what is carried out on the International Space Station.
China has been making rapid strides with its manned space program. In the last two years the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has been operating the Tiangong-1 ‘Heavenly Palace’, an orbital laboratory similar to the US Skylab or Soviet Salyut programme.
With Tiangong-1, the country has demonstrated that they have the technology to both lift space station modules into orbit, as well as successful dock with manned craft. So far 6 Chinese astronauts have visited this orbital lab, with a second (Tiangong-2) slated for launch in 2016.
Closed Systems Research
One of the main stated goal of the planned Chinese space station is to study and perfect closed environmental systems.
Zhang Bonan explained that China would need to solve the problems associated with long-term space survival, include carbon dioxide reabsorption and the recycling of urine.
To achieve this, CNSA plans to build a closed ecosystem within the space station. This will consist of modules growing plants that will not just feed the crew, but also absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
CNSA expects that the space station will be able to be fully self-sufficient, living only off this ecological system, however, they admit the challenge is immense. Such an ecosphere, it believes, will be crucial for the development of spacecraft that are capable of travelling further away from Earth.