The Chinese are ready to set foot in space in a big way with their own space station. State run station Xinhua reported that China is planning to initially set up a two-module space-station, named Tiangong-1, as soon as late this year. Tiangong means Heavenly Palace’ in English. The space module unveiling was telecast live on Xinhua.
The station module and the Chinese space vehicle Shenzhou-8 will complete preliminary tests such as docking and orbital rendezvous before going on to the really big plans. The Tiangong-1 weighs a hefty 8.5 tons and is equipped with two docking ports. It is a small step, Chinese officials say, before going into the really big league with Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 manned missions next year. These two missions will be to equip the space station for scientific purposes. The space station is expected to be ready by 2020, when it is expected to approach the status of Skylab, NASA’s first space station launched in 1973. China’s Skylab’ will weigh about 60 tons (Skylab was 77 tons).
Questions are already rife as to whether the Chinese are trying to compete with the Americans. China denies this, saying that the space station is to just conduct scientific experiments. The space stations will also house military observation equipments.
Dean Cheng, a specialist in China’s military and space capabilities, says that this is merely a completion of Project 921, which was begun in 1992. He also hopes that this will not lead to worse Sino-US relationships.
The Chinese space program is completely indigenously designed, and the Chinese will not initially go into collaboration with any state, out of pride in their self-reliance and their strict emphasis on indigenous innovation’.