7 November 2018
Here's Our First Look at China's New Space Station
by Avery Thompson
Most of the planet’s spacefaring countries have set up a semi-permanent habitat in the International Space Station, but China is insistent on doing its own thing. China's Tiangong project is a work in progress, with the first iteration, a prototype called Tiangong-1, that spectacularly fell to Earth after China’s space agency lost control of it.
The second iteration, Tiangong-2, is still a work in progress. A small section of the station is already in orbit, and a pair of astronauts visited in 2016, but right now it isn’t designed for long-term habitability and has sat unoccupied for two years. However, China’s space agency unveiled the new core module for the station at an airshow this week, indicating that it plans to do a lot more with the station in the future.
At Airshow China, the China National Space Administration unveiled a replica of Tiangong’s core module, which measures 55 feet long. That’s significantly smaller than the core section of the ISS, but the additional size does mean Tiangong-2 can support up to three astronauts.
China expects to finish construction of
the station in 2022, and will maintain Tiangong for at least a
decade. After the ISS is decommissioned—likely in 2024, although
there’s also a chance that private companies could take over
maintenance for a few years after that—Tiangong will be the only
space station in orbit. China has said it plans to let space
agencies from other governments use the station for experiments.