Tiangong program

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Diagram of Tiangong-1 Tiangong 1.svg
Diagram of Tiangong-1

Tiangong (Chinese : ; pinyin :Tiāngōng; lit. 'Heaven's Palace') is a space station program of the People's Republic of China, with the goal of creating a modular space station, comparable to Mir. This program is independent and unconnected to any other international space-active countries. [1] The program began in 1992 as Project 921-2. As of January 2013, China moved forward on a large multiphase construction program that will lead to a large space station around 2020. [2]


China launched its first space laboratory, Tiangong-1, on September 29, 2011. Following Tiangong-1, a more advanced space laboratory complete with cargo ship, dubbed Tiangong-2, was launched on September 15, 2016. The project will culminate with a large orbital station, which will consist of a 20-ton core module, 2 smaller research modules, and cargo transport craft. [3] It will support three astronauts for long-term habitation [2] and was scheduled to be completed by 2020 just as the International Space Station was at that time scheduled to be retired, [4] but this has since slipped to 2024. [5]


After the United States threatened to use nuclear weapons during the Korean War, [6] [7] Chairman Mao Zedong decided that only a nuclear deterrent of its own would guarantee the security of the newly founded PRC. Thus, Mao announced his decision to develop China's own strategic weapons, including associated missiles. After the launch of mankind's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, Chairman Mao decided to put China on an equal footing with the superpowers ("我们也要搞人造卫星"), using Project 581 with the idea of putting a satellite in orbit by 1959 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PRC's founding. However, it would not be until April 24, 1970 that this goal would become a reality.

The PRC crewed space program orbited Yang Liwei in Shenzhou 5 Yang Liwei.jpg
The PRC crewed space program orbited Yang Liwei in Shenzhou 5

Mao and Zhou Enlai began the PRC's crewed space program on July 14, 1967. [8] China's first crewed spacecraft design was named Shuguang-1 (曙光一号) in January 1968. [9] Project 714 was officially adopted in April 1971 with the goal of sending two astronauts into space by 1973 aboard the Shuguang spacecraft. The first screening process for astronauts had already ended on March 15, 1971, with 19 astronauts chosen. The program was soon cancelled due to political turmoil.

The next crewed space program was even more ambitious and was proposed in March 1986 as Project 863. This consisted of a crewed spacecraft (Project 863-204) used to ferry astronaut crews to a space station (Project 863-205). Several spaceplane designs were rejected two years later and a simpler space capsule was chosen instead. Although the project did not achieve its goals, it would ultimately become the 1992 Project 921, encompassing the Shenzhou program, the Tiangong program, and the Chinese space station.

On the 50th anniversary of the PRC's founding, China launched the Shenzhou 1 spacecraft on November 20, 1999 and recovered it after a flight of 21 hours. The country became the third country with a successful crewed space program by sending Yang Liwei into space aboard Shenzhou 5 on October 15, 2003 for more than 21 hours. It was a major success for Chinese space programs.

Project history

In 1999, Project 921-2 was finally given official authorization. Two versions of the station were studied: an 8-metric ton "space laboratory" and 20-metric ton "space station".[ citation needed ]

In 2000, the first model of the planned space station was unveiled at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany. This was made up of modules derived from the orbital module of the Shenzhou spacecraft. Overall length of the station would be around 20 m, with a total mass of under 40 metric tons, with possibility of expansion through addition of further modules.[ citation needed ]

In 2001, Chinese engineers described a three-step process toward the realization of Project 921. The original target date for the fulfillment of the project was 2010.[ citation needed ]

Originally, China planned to simply dock Shenzhou 8 and Shenzhou 9 together to form a simple space laboratory. However, it was decided to abandon that plan and launch a small space laboratory instead. In 2007, plans for an 8-metric ton "space laboratory" being launched in 2010 under the designation of Tiangong-1 were made public. This would be an eight-ton space laboratory module with two docking ports. Subsequent flights (Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10) will dock with the laboratory. [10]

On September 29, 2008, Zhang Jianqi (张建启), Vice Director of China crewed space engineering, declared in an interview of China Central Television [11] it is Tiangong-1 (i.e. not Shenzhou 8) that will be the 8-ton "target vehicle", and Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9, and Shenzhou 10 will all be spaceships to dock with Tiangong-1 in turn.

On October 1, 2008, Shanghai Space Administration, which participated in the development of Shenzhou 8, stated [12] that they succeeded in the simulated experiments for the docking of Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou 8.

On June 16, 2012, Shenzhou 9 was launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia, China, carrying a crew of three. The Shenzhou craft successfully docked with the Tiangong-1 laboratory on June 18, 2012, at 06:07 UTC, marking China's first crewed spacecraft docking. [13]

On June 11, 2013, China launched Shenzhou 10 with a crew of three headed for the Tiangong-1. [14]

The full 60-metric ton "space station" has been delayed to ~2020–2022, and will support three astronauts for long-term habitation. [2]


Space laboratory phase

Chinese efforts to develop LEO space station capabilities will begin with a space laboratory phase, with the launch of three Tiangong test vehicles (later reduced to two). [2]

Tiangong-1 "target vehicle"

Drawing of Shenzhou docked to Tiangong-1 Tiangong 1 drawing.png
Drawing of Shenzhou docked to Tiangong-1

The Chinese docking target consists of a propulsion (resource) module and a pressurized module for experiments, with a docking mechanism at either end. The docking port of the experiment section supports automated docking. [15] Its length is 10.5 metres (34 ft), diameter is 3.4 metres (11 ft), [2] with a mass of 8,000 kilograms (18,000 lb). Launched on September 29, 2011, it was intended for short stays of a crew of three. [15] [10] [11] The second docking port, on the propulsion module, was kept screened from press photography inside and outside the module. It re-entered and burned up in the atmosphere on April 2, 2018, at 00:16 UTC. [16]

Tiangong-2 "space laboratory"

Model of a Shenzhou docked to a Tiangong Model of the Chinese Tiangong Shenzhou.jpg
Model of a Shenzhou docked to a Tiangong

A second and a third test station were originally planned to precede the eventual modular station. These would be 14.4 metres (47 ft) long, with a diameter of 4.2 metres (14 ft), and weigh up to 20,000 kilograms (44,000 lb). [1] The second one would provide life support for a crew of 2 for 20 days, and the third one a crew of 3 for 40 days. [2] However, all the objectives of these two stations were later merged into one project, [17] and the size scaled down to less than 10,000 kilograms (22,000 lb).

The resulting Tiangong-2 space laboratory was launched on September 15, 2016. [18] The station made a controlled reentry on July 19, 2019 and burned up over the South Pacific Ocean. [19]


A third space station proposed but later cancelled in favor of advancing to the new large modular station.

Large orbital station

Chinese space station
(Project 921 Phase 3)
20-metric ton "space station"
Chinese large orbital station.png
Drawing of Shenzhou and Cargo ship docked to the large orbital station
Station statistics
Launch ~2020–2022
Mass 66,000 kg
Length~ 20.00 m
Diameter~ 3.00 m

China plans to build the world's third multi-module space station, to follow Mir and the International Space Station (ISS). [1] This was dependent upon the date of OPSEK's separation from the ISS but after a statement in September 2017, the head of Roscosmos Igor Komarov said that the technical feasibility of separating the station to form OPSEK had been studied and there were now "no plans to separate the Russian segment from the ISS". [20] The previous separate components will be integrated into a space station, arranged as: [2]

The larger station will be assembled in 2020–2022 and have a design lifetime of ten years. The complex will weigh approximately 60,000 kilograms (130,000 lb) and will support three astronauts for long-term habitation. [2] The public is being asked to submit suggestions for names and symbols to adorn the space station and cargo ship. "Considering past achievements and the bright future, we feel that the crewed space program should have a more vivid symbol and that the future space station should carry a resounding and encouraging name", Wang Wenbao, director of the office, said at the news conference. "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", Wang said. [21]

International co-operation

After the success of China's crewed space launch, a Chinese official expressed interest in joining the International Space Station program. [25] In 2010, ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain stated that his agency was ready to propose to the other 4 partners that China, India, and South Korea be invited to join the ISS partnership. [26] China has indicated a willingness to cooperate further with other countries on crewed exploration. [27]

See also

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Shenzhou (spacecraft) Spacecraft from China, based on the Soyuz

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Chinese space program Space program of the Peoples Republic of China

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Shuttle–<i>Mir</i> program Space program between Russia and the United States

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Chinese large modular space station Planned space station to be placed in Low Earth orbit

The Chinese large modular space station is a planned space station to be placed in Low Earth orbit. The planned Chinese Space Station will be roughly one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station and about the size of the decommissioned Russian Mir space station. The Chinese station is expected to have a mass between 80 and 100 tonnes. Operations will be controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center in China. The planned launch date of the core module, the Tianhe, is 2021. In 2017, the Chinese launched the Tianzhou-1 cargo spaceship, which is based on the Tiangong 1 and 2 space laboratories.

Shenzhou 8 Eighth launch of the Shenzhou spacecraft

Shenzhou 8 was an uncrewed flight of China's Shenzhou program, launched on 31 October 2011 UTC, or 1 November 2011 in China, by a Long March 2F rocket which lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Shenzhou 9

Shenzhou 9 was the fourth crewed spacecraft flight of China's Shenzhou program, launched at 18:37:24 CST, 16 June 2012. Shenzhou 9 was the second spacecraft and first crewed spacecraft to dock with the Tiangong 1 space station, which took place on 18 June. The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft landed at 10:01:16 CST on 29 June in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The mission's crew included the first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang. The next mission was Shenzhou 10, which launched on 11 June 2013.

Shenzhou 10

Shenzhou 10 was a crewed spaceflight of China's Shenzhou program that was launched on 11 June 2013. It was China's fifth crewed space mission. The mission had a crew of three astronauts: Nie Haisheng, who was mission commander and previously flew on Shenzhou 6; Zhang Xiaoguang, a former PLAAF squadron commander who conducted the rendezvous and docking; and Wang Yaping, the second Chinese female astronaut. The Shenzhou spacecraft docked with the Tiangong-1 trial space laboratory module on 13 June, and the astronauts performed physical, technological, and scientific experiments while on board. Shenzhou 10 was the final mission to Tiangong 1 in this portion of the Tiangong program. On 26 June 2013, after a series of successful docking tests, Shenzhou 10 returned to Earth.

The Shenzhou program is a crewed spaceflight initiative by People's Republic of China. The program put the first Chinese citizen, Yang Liwei, into orbit on 15 October 2003.

Several Asian National space programs are engaged in a space race to achieve the scientific and technological advancements necessary for regular spaceflight, as well as reap the strategic and economic benefits of space capability. This is sometimes referred to as the Asian space race in popular media, an allusion to the Cold-War-era Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Like the previous space race, the motivations for the current push into space include national security, national pride, and commercial gain. These incentives have spurred several countries to send artificial satellites as well as humans into Geocentric orbit and beyond. Although many Asian nations have taken steps toward a presence in space, three countries stand out as forerunners, specifically China, India, and Japan.

Tiangong-1 Chinese prototype space station

Tiangong-1 was China's first prototype space station. It orbited Earth from September 2011 to April 2018, serving as both a crewed laboratory and an experimental testbed to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities during its two years of active operational life.

Tiangong-2 Chinese space laboratory

Tiangong-2 was a Chinese space laboratory and part of the Project 921-2 space station program. Tiangong-2 was launched on 15 September 2016. It was deorbited as planned on 19 July 2019.

Tiangong-3 was a proposed Chinese space station, part of the Tiangong space station program. The China National Space Agency was originally expected to launch Tiangong-3 around 2015, following the launch of the Tiangong-2 test laboratory, originally planned for 2013. The goals for the Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 laboratories were eventually merged, and the latter was therefore not ordered.

Tianhe (space station module) Component of Chinas space station

The Tianhe, code name TH, or Core Cabin Module (CCM) is the foundation element of the Chinese space station, as the final stage of Project 921 Tiangong program, part of the Chinese space program. The CCM follows the Salyut and Almaz series, Cosmos 557, Skylab, Mir, ISS, Tiangong 1 and Tiangong 2 space stations. It is the first part of a third generation modular space station. Other examples of modular station projects include the Soviet/Russian Mir, Russian OPSEK, and the International Space Station. Operations will be controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center in the People's Republic of China. In 2018 fullscale mockup of CCM was publicly presented at China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai. In October 2020, China selected 18 new astronauts ahead of space station construction to participate in the country’s upcoming space station project.

European contribution to the International Space Station

The European contribution to the International Space Station comes from 10 members of the European Space Agency (ESA) and amounts to an 8% share in the programme. It consists of a number of modules in the US Orbital Segment, ATV supply ships, launchers, software and €8 billion.

Politics of the International Space Station

Politics of the International Space Station have been affected by superpower rivalries, international treaties and funding arrangements. The Cold War was an early factor, overtaken in recent years by United States distrust of China. The station has an international crew, with the use of their time, and that of equipment on the station, being governed by treaties between participant nations.

Shenzhou 11

Shenzhou 11 was a crewed spaceflight of the Shenzhou program of China, launched on 17 October 2016 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It was China's sixth crewed space mission, and its longest to date, at 33 days. Two days after launch, it docked with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory, which had been launched on September 15, 2016.


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