Friday, May 20, 2016

China Reveals Design for Its Planned Tiangong 3 Space Station

Artist's rendering of the Tiangong 3 space station. Image Credit: Adrian Mann,

China has recently presented the design of its future space station called Tiangong 3 (Heavenly Palace in Chinese), expected to be completed in 2022. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has released several Powerpoint slides offering a sneak peek at the country’s forthcoming orbital laboratory.

According to the newly released photos, the station’s core module, named “Tianhe 1” (which means “galaxy”), will include a laboratory with integrated modular racks for storing scientific equipment. It will also have five docking ports and a robotic arm. With a mass of about 22 metric tons, this module will be 59 feet (18.1 meters) long and 14 feet (4.2 meters) in diameter. Tianhe 1 will serve as a docking hub for future modules and resupply spacecraft, hence it will be launched first, in 2018, most likely atop a Long March 5 booster.

Tiangong 3 will have two science modules: Wengtian and Mengtian. These modules are planned be used to perform scientific research in microgravity. Both will be 47 feet (14.4 meters) long, and will have the same maximum diameter and launch weight as the core module.

Popular Science reports that Wengtian will be fitted with a set of internal modular racks for scientific missions. It will also have its own small robotic arm to assist crew in conducting experiments out in the vacuum of space. The site noted that Mengtian will have a docking port for interfacing with spacecraft, capable of supporting other modules and spaceships for logistics and repair.

Artist's concept of the Tianhe 1 module. Image Credit: aihangtian via
Artist's concept of the Tianhe 1 module. Image Credit: aihangtian via

The science modules are scheduled to be send to space in the 2020-2022 timeframe.

"Two space labs will be launched later and dock with the core module, Tianhe 1. The construction of the space station is expected to finish in 2022," Wang Zhongyang, spokesman for the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said in April.

Tiangong 3 is planned to be visited by Shenzhou manned vehicles and Tianzhou cargo vessels. According to the projects revealed by CNSA, the station will be also able to accommodate the country’s future space telescope named Xuntian. The space observatory will be equipped in a 6.5-feet diameter primary mirror and will have a field of view about 300 times larger than the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. Xuntian will share the same orbit as the Tiangong 3 that would allow it an easy docking with the Mengtian module, if needed.

China’s first space lab Tiangong 1, was launched in September 2011. In June 2012, it docked with the manned Shenzhou 9 spacecraft with three astronauts onboard. Tiangong 1 was also visited in June 2013, when the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft transported a trio of astronauts and they delivered a physics lesson onboard the module.

Tiangong 2 is currently scheduled to be send into space by a Long March 2F rocket in September 2016. The module will be visited by the manned Shenzhou 11 vehicle and a resupply cargo craft Tianzhou 1.