Tiangong means ‘Heavenly Palace’. This is the name of the space station that China is building in the orbit of Earth. Once the mission is accomplished, the Earth will have two space stations in its orbit. The other one – the International Space Station (a joint project of the US and Russia) – has already been active in the orbit for over the last two decades.
Today, China sent its three astronauts to Earth’s orbit launching the spacecraft Shenzhou-12 from the Gobi desert to build the Tiangong space station which is revolving 390 km above Earth, around 9 km lower than the International Space Station.
11 missions planned to build Tiangong Space Station by next year
China has planned 11 missions to build its first long-term outpost in space. The target is to complete it by the end of next year.
So far three missions have been sent. First, a core module containing the living quarters and life support equipment for Chinese astronauts was launched on 29 April 2021.
Then, a cargo mission was sent to its nascent space station on 29 May 2021 which carried tons of supplies to equip and sustain the station. The space station will have three bedrooms, one bathroom, and dining and gyming areas for the astronauts.
Now, in its third mission, three astronauts 56-year-old Nie Haisheng, 54-year-old Liu Boming and 45-year-old Tang Hongbo have been sent to build the Tiangong space station. The crew is carrying basic supplies for its long stay. The supplies include 120 types of meals.
First crew to stay at Chinese space station for three months
This crew is expected to spend three months in orbit, following which three other astronauts will replace them. The first three astronauts are tasked with the installation of crucial equipment and test their functioning. They are also scheduled for two spacewalks in the meantime.
The Tiangong space station is expected to operate for at least a decade taking forward China’s space program and conducting experiments with its international partners, bringing even foreign astronauts in the future.
Notably, Since 2011, China has been barred from the International Space Station. The US Congress passed a law prohibiting contact with the Chinese space program raising concerns about national security.
Big highlights of China’s Space Programme in recent years
China, indeed, has been late in developing an orbiting space station as compared to the US and Russia, but in recent years its space programme has been very successful with series of launches and landings.
In May, the Chinese robotic rover Zhurong landed on the surface of Mars, becoming the second country after the US to achieve the feat.
Last December, China sent a robotic mission to the moon, which successfully returned collecting rocks from its surface. Earlier, only the US and the Soviet Union had concluded a similar trip.
China has planned several space missions including the collection of samples from a near-Earth asteroid by 2025, as Japan did it twice. It also plans to launch a mission to collect samples from Mars as NASA and the European Space Agency intend to do as well.