a China It plans to expand its space station from three to six modules in the coming years, thus providing astronauts from other countries an alternative platform for near-Earth missions, such as NASA’s International Space Station, in weis approaching the end of its useful life.
The operational life of the Chinese space station will be more than 15 years, the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) announced during the 74th International Astronautical Congress, in Azerbaijan, last Wednesday (4).
Also known as Tiangong, or “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese, the Chinese structure has been fully operational since the end of 2022, hosting a maximum of three astronauts at an orbital altitude of 450 kilometres.
At 180 metric tons after expanding to six modules, the station still represents only 40% of the mass of NASA’s structure, which can accommodate a crew of seven astronauts. But the North American station, which has been in orbit for more than two decades, is expected to be decommissioned after 2030, around the same time that China has said it hopes to become a “major space power.”
Last year, Chinese official media announced that the country would not be “negligent” due to the approaching end of the American station’s operation, adding that “several countries” had requested to send astronauts to the Chinese station.
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In a blow to China’s space diplomacy aspirations, the European Space Agency said this year that it had no financial or political green light to participate in Tiangong operations.
“Abandoning cooperation with China in the field of manned space is clearly shortsighted, which reveals that the confrontation led by the United States has led to a new space race,” the Chinese nationalist newspaper Global Times wrote at the time.
Tiangong has become a symbol of China’s growing influence and confidence in the space race and a challenge to US dominance in this sector.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos announced last year that it plans to build a six-module space station that can accommodate up to four astronauts.
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