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Tiangong space station

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tiangong Space Station[1]
Chinese Space Station.png
A rendering of the space station
Station statistics
CrewFully crewed: 3
Currently aboard: 3
(Shenzhou 12)
Expedition: 1
Commander: Nie Haisheng (CNSA) [2]
Launch29 April 2021 (Tianhe)
2022 (Wentian and Mengtian)
Launch padWenchang Spacecraft Launch Site LC-1
Mass100,000 kg
Length~ 20.00 m
Diameter~ 3.00 m
Pressurised volume110 m3 (3,880 cu ft) (planned)
Days in orbit1 month, 23 days
(21 June 2021)
Days occupied3 days
(21 June 2021)

Tiangong (Chinese: 天宫; pinyin: Tiāngōng; lit. 'Heavenly Palace')[3][4][5] is a space station placed in low Earth orbit between 340 and 450 km (210 and 280 mi) above the surface. The Tiangong Space Station, once completed, will be roughly one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station and about the size of the decommissioned Russian Mir space station. The Tiangong is expected to have a mass between 80 and 100 t (180,000 and 220,000 lb). Operations will be controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center in China. The core module, the Tianhe ("Harmony of the Heavens"), launched on 29 April 2021.[3][5]

The construction of the station marks the third phase of the Tiangong program, building on the experience gained from its precursors, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2.[6][7][8] Chinese leaders hope that research conducted on the station will improve researchers' ability to conduct science experiments in space, beyond the duration offered by China's existing space laboratories.[9] A Long March 2F with a Shenzhou spacecraft will always be on standby for an emergency rescue mission.[10]


Deng Xiaoping decided[citation needed] that the names used in the space program, previously all chosen from the revolutionary history of the PRC, would be replaced with mystical-religious ones. Thus, the new Long March launch vehicles were renamed Divine arrow (神箭),[11][12] space capsule Divine vessel (神舟),[13] space shuttle Divine dragon (神龙),[14] land-based high-power laser Divine light (神光)[15] and supercomputer Divine might (神威).[16]

These poetic[17] names continue as the first, second, third, fourth and fifth Chinese Lunar probes are called Chang'e after the Moon goddess. The name "Tiangong" means "heavenly palace". Across the PRC the launch of Tiangong 1 inspired a variety of feelings, including love poetry. Within the PRC, the rendezvous of space vehicles is compared to the reunion of the cowherd and the weavergirl.[citation needed][18]

Wang Wenbao, director of the CMSEO, told a news conference in 2011 "Considering past achievements and the bright future, we feel the manned space programme should have a more vivid symbol, and that the future space station should carry a resounding and encouraging name. We now feel that the public should be involved in the names and symbols, as this major project will enhance national prestige and strengthen the national sense of cohesion and pride".[17][19][20] Imagery of the Chinese space program has been used by the Party (government) to strengthen its position and promote patriotism since the late 1950s and early 1960s.[21]

On 31 October 2013, China Manned Space Engineering announced the new names for the whole program:[7]


"T" concept of the Chinese large modular space station
"T" concept of the Chinese large modular space station

The space station will be a third generation modular space station. First generation space stations, such as early Salyut, Almaz, and Skylab, were single piece stations and not designed for resupply. Second generation Salyut 6 and 7, and Tiangong 1 and 2 stations, are designed for mid-mission resupply. Third generation stations, such as Mir and the International Space Station, are modular space stations, assembled on-orbit from pieces launched separately. Modularised design methods can greatly improve reliability, reduce costs, shorten development cycle, and meet diversified task requirements.[6]

Solar arraySolar array
Solar arraySolar arrayDocking portSolar arraySolar array
core module
Solar arrayEVA hatchDocking portDocking portSolar array


Panel views of the Chinese Tianhe space station core module
Panel views of the Chinese Tianhe space station core module

The Tianhe Core Cabin Module provides life support and living quarters for three crew members, and provides guidance, navigation, and orientation control for the station. The module also provides the station's power, propulsion, and life support systems. The module consists of three sections: living quarters, service section and a docking hub. The living quarters will contain a kitchen and toilet, fire control equipment, atmospheric processing and control equipment, computers, scientific apparatus, communications equipment to send and receive communications via ground control in Beijing, and other equipment. A Canadian-style SSRMS robotic arm will be transported into space folded under the Tisane service section. Additionally, the Wentian experiment (described below) will also carry a duplicate stowed second SSRMS robotic arm. In 2018 fullscale mockup of CCM was publicly presented at China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai. The video from CNSA revealed that the Chinese have built two of these core modules. Artist impressions have also depicted the two core modules docked together to enlarge the overall station.

Wentian supplemental experiment module
Wentian supplemental experiment module
Mengtian supplemental experiment module
Mengtian supplemental experiment module

The first of two Laboratory Cabin Modules, 'Wentian' and 'Mengtian' respectively, will provide additional navigation avionics, propulsion and orientation control as backup functions for the CCM. Both LCMs will provide a pressurised environment for researchers to conduct science experiments in freefall or microgravity which could not be conducted on Earth for more than a few minutes. Experiments can also be placed on the outside of the modules for exposure to the space environment, cosmic rays, vacuum, and solar winds.

Like Mir and the Russian orbital segment of the ISS, the CSS modules will be carried fully assembled into orbit, in contrast to the US Orbital Segment of the ISS, which required spacewalking to interconnect cables, piping, and structural elements manually. The axial port of the LCMs will be fitted with rendezvous equipment and will first dock to the axial port of the CCM. A mechanical arm similar to the Russian Lyappa arm used on the Mir space station will then move the module to a radial port of the CCM.


Power supply

Electrical power is provided by two steerable solar power arrays on each module, which use gallium arsenide photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity. Energy is stored to power the station when it passes into the Earth's shadow. Resupply spacecraft will replenish fuel for the station's propulsion engines for station keeping, to counter the effects of atmospheric drag. The solar arrays are designed to last up to 15 years.[28]


Tiangong is fitted with Chinese Docking Mechanism used by Shenzhou spacecraft and previous Tiangong prototypes. The Chinese docking mechanism is based on the Russian APAS-89/APAS-95 system. Despite NASA describing it as a "clone" to APAS,[29] there have been contradictory claims on the compatibility of the Chinese system with both current and future docking mechanisms on the ISS, which are also based on APAS.[30][31][32] It has a circular transfer passage that has a diameter of 800 mm (31 in).[33][34] The androgynous variant has a mass of 310 kg and the non-androgynous variant has a mass of 200 kg.[35]

Chinese Docking Mechanism was used for the first time on Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1 space station and will be used on future Chinese space stations and with future Chinese cargo resupply vehicles.[36][30]


The programmed experiment equipment for the three modules as of June 2016 are:[8]

  • Space life sciences and biotechnology
    • Ecology Science Experiment Rack (ESER)
    • Biotechnology Experiment Rack (BER)
    • Science Glove-box and Refrigerator Rack (SGRR)
  • Microgravity fluid physics and combustion
    • Fluids Physics Experiment Rack (FPER)
    • Two-phase System Experiment Rack (TSER)
    • Combustion Experiment Rack (CER)
  • Material science in space
    • Material Furnace Experiment Rack (MFER)
    • Container-less Material Experiment Rack (CMER)
  • Fundamental Physics in Microgravity
    • Cold Atom Experiment Rack (CAER)
    • High-precision Time-Frequency Rack (HTFR)
  • Multipurpose Facilities
    • High Micro-gravity Level Rack (HMGR)
    • Varying-Gravity Experiment Rack (VGER)
    • Modularized Experiment Rack (RACK)



In 2011, the space station was planned to be assembled during 2020 to 2022.[37] By 2013, the space station's core module was planned to be launched earlier, in 2018, followed by the first laboratory module in 2020, and a second in 2022.[38] By 2018 this had slipped to 2020-2023.[24][39] A total of 12 launches are planned for the whole construction phase, now beginning in 2021.[40][41]


A model of the launcher for modules, the Long March 5
A model of the launcher for modules, the Long March 5

The assembly method of the station can be compared with the Soviet-Russian Mir space station and the Russian orbital segment of the International Space Station. If the station is constructed, China will be the second nation to develop and use automatic rendezvous and docking for modular space station construction. Shenzhou spacecraft and space stations use a domestically made docking mechanism similar to, or compatible with, the Russian designed APAS docking adapter. During the cordial Sino-Soviet relations of the 1950s, the Soviet Union (USSR) engaged in a cooperative technology transfer program with the PRC under which they taught Chinese students and provided the fledgling program with a sample R-2 rocket. The first Chinese missile was built in 1958 reverse-engineered from the Soviet R-2, itself an upgraded version of the German V-2 rocket.[42] But when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was denounced as revisionist by Mao, the friendly relationship between the two countries turned to confrontation. As a consequence, all Soviet technological assistance was abruptly withdrawn after the 1960 Sino-Soviet split.

Development of the Long March rocket series allowed the PRC to initiate a commercial launch program in 1985, which has since launched over 30 foreign satellites, primarily for European and Asian interests.

In 1994, Russia sold some of its advanced aviation and space technology to the Chinese. In 1995 a deal was signed between the two countries for the transfer of Russian Soyuz spacecraft technology to China. Included in the agreement was training, provision of Soyuz capsules, life support systems, docking systems, and space suits. In 1996, two Chinese astronauts, Wu Jie and Li Qinglong, began training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia. After training, these men returned to China and proceeded to train other Chinese astronauts at sites near Beijing and Jiuquan. The hardware and information sold by the Russians led to modifications of the original Phase One spacecraft, eventually called Shenzhou, which loosely translated means "divine vessel". New launch facilities were built at the Jiuquan launch site in Inner Mongolia, and in the spring of 1998 a mock-up of the Long March 2F launch vehicle with Shenzhou spacecraft was rolled out for integration and facility tests.[43]

A representative of the Chinese crewed space program stated that around 2000, China and Russia were engaged in technological exchanges regarding the development of a docking mechanism.[44] Deputy Chief Designer, Huang Weifen, stated that near the end of 2009, the Chinese agency began to train astronauts on how to dock spacecraft.[45]

International co-operation

Cooperation in the field of crewed space flight between the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) was examined in 2011, participation in the development of China crewed space stations and cooperation with China in the fields such as astronauts flight, and scientific research was discussed.[46] An initial cooperative agreement with China National Space Administration and Italian Space Agency was signed in November 2011, covering collaboration areas of space transportation, telecommunications, Earth observation, etc.[47] Italian experiment High Energy cosmic-Radiation Detection (HERD) is scheduled to be onboard the Chinese station.[48] Tiangong also involves cooperation from France, Sweden, and Russia.[49]

On 22 February 2017, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) and Italian Space Agency (ASI) signed an agreement to cooperate on long-term human spaceflight activities.[50] The agreement holds importance due to Italy's leading position in the field of human spaceflight with regard to the creation and exploitation of the International Space Station (Node 2, Node 3, Columbus, Cupola, Leonardo, Raffaello, Donatello, PMM, etc.) and it signifies Italy's increased anticipation in China's developing space station programme.[51] European Space Agency (ESA) started human spaceflight training with CMSEO in 2017, with the ultimate goal of sending ESA astronauts onto Chinese space station.[52]

International experiments are selected by China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) on a UN session in 2019. 42 applications were submitted and six experiments were accepted. Some of the experiment are continuation to the ones on Tiangong-2 such as POLAR-2, an experiment of researching Gamma-ray burst polarimetry, proposed by Switzerland, Poland, Germany and China.[53] Tricia Larose from the University of Oslo of Norway develops a cancer research experiment for the station. The 31-days experiment will test to see if weightlessness has a positive effect in stopping cancer growth.[54] Tiangong is also expected to host experiments from Belgium, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Spain.[53]

Regarding the participation of foreign astronauts, China Manned Space Agency repeatedly communicated their support for such proposal. On the press conference of Shenzhou 12 mission, Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of China's manned space program explained that multiple countries have expressed their wish in the participation. He told journalists that foreign astronauts' future participation "will be guaranteed".[55] Ji Qiming, an assistant director at CMSEO told reporters that he believes "in the near future, after the completion of the Chinese space station, we will see Chinese and foreign astronauts fly and work together."[56]


The station will be resupplied by crewed and robotic spacecraft.

Crewed mission

Initial crewed missions to Tiangong, including first mission Shenzhou 12, use the Shenzhou spacecraft.

China is testing a next-generation crewed spacecraft to replace Shenzhou. It is designed to carry astronauts to the Chinese space station and offer the capability for the moon exploration. China's next-generation crew carrier is reusable with a detachable heat shield built to handle higher-temperature returns through Earth's atmosphere. The new capsule design is larger than the Shenzhou, according to Chinese officials. The spacecraft is capable of carrying astronauts to the Moon, and can accommodate up to six to seven crew members at a time, three more astronauts than that of Shenzhou.[57] The new crewed spacecraft has cargo section that allows astronauts bringing cargo back to Earth, whereas Tianzhou cargo resupply spacecraft is not designed to bring any cargo back to Earth.[57]

Cargo resupply

Tianzhou (Heavenly Vessel), a modified derivative of the Tiangong-1 spacecraft, will be used as robotic cargo spacecraft to resupply this station.[58] The launch mass of Tianzhou is expected to be around 13,000 kg with a payload of around 6,000 kg.[59] Launch, rendezvous and docking shall be fully autonomous, with mission control and crew used in override or monitoring roles. This system becomes very reliable with standardisations that provide significant cost benefits in repetitive routine operations. An automated approach could allow assembly of modules orbiting other worlds prior to crewed missions.[60]

List of missions

  • All dates are UTC. Dates are the earliest possible dates and may change.
  • Forward ports are at the front of the station according to its normal direction of travel and orientation (attitude). Aft is at the rear of the station, used by spacecraft boosting the station's orbit. Nadir is closest the Earth, zenith is on top. Port is to the left if pointing one's feet towards the Earth and looking in the direction of travel; starboard to the right.
  Uncrewed cargo spacecraft are in light blue colour
  Crewed spacecraft are in light green colour
  Modules are in beige colour
Launch date (UTC) Docking date (UTC) Undocking date (UTC) Result Spacecraft Launch vehicle Launch site Launch provider Docking/berthing port
29 April 2021, 03:23:15[3] Success Tianhe Long March 5B China Wenchang LC-1 China CASC N/A
29 May 2021, 12:55:29[61] 29 May 2021, 21:01[62] TBD Tianzhou 2 Long March 7 China Wenchang LC-2 China CASC Tianhe aft
17 June 2021, 01:22:27[63] 17 June 2021, 07:54[63] TBD Shenzhou 12 Long March 2F China Jiuquan SLS-1 China CASC Tianhe forward
September 2021[64] TBD TBD Planned Tianzhou 3 Long March 7 China Wenchang LC-2 China CASC Tianhe aft
October 2021[65] TBD TBD Shenzhou 13 Long March 2F China Jiuquan SLS-1 China CASC Tianhe forward
March–April 2022[66] TBD TBD Tianzhou 4 Long March 7 China Wenchang LC-2 China CASC Tianhe aft
May 2022[67] TBD TBD Shenzhou 14 Long March 2F China Jiuquan SLS-1 China CASC Tianhe forward
May–June 2022[68] TBD Wentian Long March 5B China Wenchang LC-1 China CASC Tianhe port
August–September 2022[69] TBD Mengtian Long March 5B China Wenchang LC-1 China CASC Tianhe starboard
October 2022[70] TBD TBD Tianzhou 5 Long March 7 China Wenchang LC-2 China CASC Tianhe aft
November 2022[71] TBD TBD Shenzhou 15 Long March 2F China Jiuquan SLS-1 China CASC Tianhe nadir

End of mission

The Chinese large modular space station is designed to be used for 10 years which could be extended to 15 years[72] and will accommodate three astronauts.[73] Chinese crewed spacecraft use deorbital burns to slow their velocity, resulting in their re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere. Vehicles carrying a crew have a heat shield which prevents the vehicle's destruction caused by aerodynamic heating upon contact with the Earth's atmosphere. The CSS has no heat-shield; however, small parts of space stations can reach the surface of the Earth, so uninhabited areas will be targeted for de-orbit manoeuvres.[38]

See also


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External links

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