China In Space: Next Mission Set For Chinese Space Station

By Joann Fan , Mar 01, 2013 11:53 AM EST

Since China was barred from joining 16 other countries in the International Space Station project in 1998, it has worked independently on manned space flight — the first of which successfully sent astronaut Yang Liwei and the Shenzhou 5 into a 90-minute flight in 2003. This summer, China's fifth manned mission will send three astronauts in the Shenzhou 10 to the Tiangong 1, a space station about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station.

The Tiangong 1 is set to be replaced in 2020, says SF Gate, and the three-man crew to visit the station will be the second manned mission to the Tiangong 1. They will spend two weeks testing the functionality of the docking and life support systems, as well as the feasibility of conducting scientific experiments on it.

China was barred from joining the International Space Station team at the insistence of the United States, which objected on the basis of political differences and the Chinese program's close ties to the military. China was the third country to independently send a man into space, as well as the third to launch and maintain its own space station. It has been extremely careful about the security of its astronauts — a death would reflect badly on its program.

China also has plans in store to launch a much larger manned space station, reports, and will collaborate with the European Space Agency in this venture. The APAS docking system, which is based off of Russia's and in use on both Tiangong and the ISS, does not work properly for the Tiangong; the shuttle essentially needs to ram the docking mechanism to attach itself, which could cause all sorts of problems in the integrity of the ship.

The new station and the Shenzhou which will bring astronauts to it will probably use the ESA's IBDM (International Berthing and Docking Mechanism), which would allow any country's spacecraft to dock, despite differences in shuttle design. In exchange for the IBDM designs and support, the ESA's astronauts will have the opportunity to use the Tiangong facilities.

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