China to move up timetable to build space station

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The International Space Station is seen in an undated NASA handout picture, June 10, 2015. REUTERS/NASA

BEIJING (Xinhua) – China is accelerating its timetable for a space station, with the core capsule expected to be launched in 2020, says Yang Liwei, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office and the country’s first astronaut.

Mr Yang told Chinese media that the two experimental modules of the space station will be sent into space in 2021 and 2022. Three or four manned missions and several cargo spacecraft launches are planned in 2021 and 2022.

After construction of the main parts of the space station, a capsule holding a large optical telescope will be sent into the same orbit to fly with the station, Mr Yang said.

During construction of the station, the number of manned space missions will rise to about five a year, compared with once every two or three years when China began sending astronauts into space more than a decade ago. Astronaut recruitment will be expanded.

China drew up a manned space flight plan code named “Project Dawn” in the 1970s, but lacked the economic and technological conditions to implement it.

In 1986, the State Council listed space technology in a high-tech development plan. In 1992, China launched its manned space flight programme. The success of Shenzhou-5 made China the third country to acquire manned space travel technology on its own.

China gained space transport technologies through the Shenzhou-5 and Shenzhou-6 spacecraft, and extra-vehicular space-walk technologies through the Shenzhou-7 mission.

The Shenzhou-8 and Shenzhou-9 missions helped China master autonomous and manned rendezvous and docking technologies. China’s manned space flight technologies have matured since the Shenzhou-10 mission. From Shenzhou-5 to Shenzhou-11, China has sent 11 astronauts into space.

China has become a major power in space, but still lags behind the leading powers, Mr Yang said. China’s reform and opening up over the past four decades have emancipated mindset, promoting economic growth and enhancing comprehensive national strength. The past 20 years have witnessed the rapid development of its space industry.

Exploration of the unknown is the impetus of human advancement. Many technologies first developed during space exploration are later used to benefit ordinary people, such as CT or MRI for medical use, Mr Yang said.

“I’m expecting more resources for the development of the space industry. China’s space station will be a platform for more advanced space science experiments to serve economic and social development on Earth,” Yang said.

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