A few days ago at the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research conference, Gu Yidong, President of the China Society of Space Research, revealed some information about the space station that China intends to build in the coming years.
Currently, China has in orbit its Tiangong 1 module, which has been used in recent years to experiment with various technologies that will be used in the construction and use of the Chinese Space Station (CSS). A few months ago, the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft was the last to dock with it confirming that China has the skills needed to manage a rendez-vous between a spacecraft and a space station. It may seem a small result but a great accuracy is required to connect two vehicles that are flying in orbit and before only the U.S.A. and Russia had succeeded in that.
The Tiangong 1 space module was also used to conduct various scientific experiments. According to the statements by Gu Yidong, the Chinese Space Station will be in many ways a research center where experiments of many different types will be conducted. The Chinese intend to take advantage of the microgravity conditions to research in fields ranging from biology to physics.
Plans of research in the field of material sciences are also being discussed. To work on metals they need furnaces where temperatures can reach very high levels, in one of the planned ones even 2,200 degrees Celsius. There are concerns regarding the safety of the use of furnaces in an environment such as a space station so those plans may be modified.
In 2015, China could launch the Tiangong module 2, a space lab more advanced than its predecessor but the plans have already been modified in recent years so it’s possible that they’ll be changed again. Originally, in 2015, the Tiangong 3 module was scheduled to launch, which was already due to be an element of Chinese space station. According to the statements by Gu Yidong, the Chinese will start building their station in 2018.
According to the latest plans, the modules of the Chinese Space Station will be launched between 2018 and 2022. The station will have an orbit between 350 km and 450 km altitude and an inclination of 42 degrees relative to the equator. The International Space Station has a height of about 400 km and an inclination of 51 degrees relative to the equator.
These plans could still be modified but certainly China is going forward. While it’s disputed whether the International Space Station will have a future after 2020, in the next decade China will have its own space station.