China To Launch Tiangong-2 Space Module In 2015 As Precursor To Space Station

The Tiangong-2 lab module will be launched in two years as a precursor to the building of a space station in 2020.

AsianScientist (Mar. 13, 2013) – A Chinese space lab will be launched in 2015 as a precursor to the building of a space station in 2020, said a key official with the manned space program in an interview with China Daily.

Tiangong-2 was originally built as a backup craft to the Tiangong-1 space module that was launched in September 2011. But the backup space laboratory module will now be used to test more advanced life-support systems, and upgrades that will allow it to be refueled by a freighter.

A freighter will be launched shortly after the Tiangong-2 lab goes into orbit, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space program and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Zhou also confirmed that China is working towards the space station after Tiangong-2 completes its mission.

The earlier space module had undergone multiple docking missions: Tiangong-1 docked with the Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft in November 2011, and with the Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft in June 2012.

Sometime between June and August this year, the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft carrying three Chinese astronauts will be launched. Shenzhou-10 is expected to achieve space rendezvous and docking missions with the orbiting Tiangong-1 lab module.

“After that, there will be no more manned dockings for the Tiangong-1, but it will continue to orbit Earth,” said Zhou to China Daily. “It is likely that the two Tiangong vehicles will be in orbit at the same time,” he said.

Earlier this month, Zhou told Xinhua news agency that China’s fourth launch center in Hainan province will be ready by 2015.

The Hainan launch center, which had been under construction since 2009, will handle as many as 10 to 12 rocket launches a year, including the Long March-5 and -7 rockets.

Satellites launched from the Hainan launch center would have three more years of service as a result of fuel savings, said Long Lehao, a carrier rocket expert with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

The three existing centers – Jiuquan in Gansu province, Taiyuan in Shanxi province, and Xichang in Sichuan province – have carried out more than 100 launches.


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