Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Countdown begins for China's space station program

Authorities in charge of the manned space program unveiled plans on Monday to build a 60-ton space station, made up of three capsules, and develop a cargo spaceship to transport supplies.

The China Manned Space Engineering Office said at a news conference that it also wants the public to get involved by suggesting names for the space station, due to completed around 2020.

According to documents provided by the office, the space station, weighing about 60 tons, is composed of a core module and two others where experiments will be conducted.

A cargo spaceship to transport supplies will also be developed.

The 18.1-meter-long core module, with a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a launch weight of 20 to 22 tons, will be launched first.

The two experiment modules will then blast off to dock with the core module. Each laboratory module is 14.4 meters long, with the same maximum diameter and launch weight of the core module.

"The 60-ton space station is rather small compared to the International Space Station (419 tons), and Russia's Mir Space Station (137 tons) which served between 1996 and 2001," said Pang Zhihao, a researcher and deputy editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine, Space International.

"But it is the world's third multi-module space station, which usually demands much more complicated technology than a single-module space lab," he said.

The office also said that China will develop a cargo spaceship, with a maximum diameter of 3.35 meters and a launch weight less than 13 tons, to transport supplies and lab facilities to the space station.

Pang said it is the first time that the office confirmed plans to build a cargo spaceship, which is vital for long-term space missions.

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