China Might Hold Monopoly On Space Stations In 8 Years
By 2024, the International Space Station will be retiring. As such, China believes it will be the only country to have a space station in service by that time.
The country has already sent out two modules of its space laboratory, the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, with the latter having been launched on Sept. 2016 using the Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. After the successful launch, two astronauts are expected to spend 30 days in the station this month to conduct experiments.
Chinese Space Station To Be Completed By 2022
The core of China's space station module is scheduled to head out into space in 2018 which will be lifted by the most powerful Chinese rocket, the Long March 5. The station is expected to be completed by 2022 consisting of a core and two lab modules, with ports that will enable multiple spacecraft to dock, according to Northbridge Times.
This dock will be used by manned and cargo spacecraft to deliver supplies for astronauts who will reside in the station for over a year. The space station itself is designed to last up to 10 years in orbit, circling Earth 400 km above the surface.
China Loses Control Of Tiangong-1
However, it seems that China is experiencing problems with Tiangong-1. Last month, officials have announced that the first module has "comprehensively completed its historical mission" and is set for re-entry in the later part of 2017, according to The Guardian.
While the country seems to consider this as a planned maneuver, the announcement is confirming months of speculation that China has lost control of its 10.4m-long module after suffering from either technical or mechanical failure.
"You really can't steer these things," said Jonathan McDowell, a renowned Harvard astrophysicist and space industry enthusiast. "Even a couple of days before it re-enters we probably won't know better than six or seven hours, plus or minus, when it's going to come down. Not knowing when it's going to come down translates as not knowing where it's going to come down."
While most of the module's structure will be melted as it passes through Earth's atmosphere, some of its denser parts such as the rocket engine will not fully disintegrate. The damage, however, will not be widespread but will be enough to cause a nasty wallop to someone's roof or car.
What This Space Monopoly Means
It can be remembered that the U.S. banned China in 2011 from getting aboard the ISS despite the fact that it was allowing astronauts from 15 different countries to enter the space station, including astronauts from South Africa, Brazil, and Malaysia. The grounds for this? National security, reported TIME.
It's no secret that China has made clear its intentions in broadening its military prowess, including the high-vantage of space. However, this "precaution" seems to stem from fear going way back from the Cold War when Russia launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite.
So this prohibition might backfire to the U.S. when China decides it won't allow American astronauts to enter their space station after its completion, slowing humanity's progress in advancing tech used in space.
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