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China aims to complete Space Station by end of 2022

On Friday, March 4, Zhou Jianping, a Chinese manned space program official, said construction of the Chinese Space Station will be completed by the end of the year. This space station will take its final T-shaped configuration. It should operate for at least ten years at an altitude of between 340 and 450 kilometers.


It will then consist of three modules, a freighter and a Shenzhou crew transport vehicle, permanently moored. It will therefore not be as bulky as the International Space Station (ISS) which has 16 modules for a mass of around 450 tonnes, compared to a hundred tonnes for the Chinese Station. But it appears large enough to meet the needs of the Chinese who have planned to use it for a wide variety of scientific experiments and technological demonstrations. It will accommodate up to six people and, if necessary, China can expand it with the addition of three more modules.


Wentian should be launched in June and Mengtian towards the end of the year. They will move on either side of the junction node of the Tianhe module, launched in April 2021. These two modules will be launched by a Long March 5B launcher. China has also planned a two-meter-diameter Xutian space telescope. It will not be docked to the station but will fly in a co-orbital configuration with it. It will come to moor there for maintenance operations. Its launch is scheduled for 2024.


The Chinese Space Station is now occupied by a crew of three astronauts, including Wang Yaping, the first Chinese to have carried out a spacewalk. This crew, Shenzhou 13, arrived on board the orbital complex in October 2021 and will return to Earth around mid-April. Two other manned missions are planned for this year, Shenzhou 14 and Shenzhou 15.


First rotation of Chinese crews

The Shenzhou 14 crew will be responsible for supervising the arrival and docking of the two Wentian and Mengtian modules, then their commissioning. With the crew of Shenzhou 15 joining the station at the end of the year, China will carry out its first crew rotation. Six Chinese taikonauts will meet together aboard their station! A first for China in space.


This space station is also likely to welcome foreign astronauts. Two astronauts from the European Space Agency, Samantha Cristoforetti, who is about to join the International Space Station, and Matthias Maurer, currently on board the ISS, trained with their Chinese counterparts in 2017. At the time, this initiative was seen as a first step towards a manned mission to the Chinese Space Station. Russia also plans to send its astronauts.

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