China Unveils Rival to International Space Station

The Chinese government has unveiled plans for a space station, the latest step in its rapidly advancing space program which put the country’s first man in space less than a decade ago. From the Guardian:

The space station will weigh around 60 tonnes and consist of a core module with two laboratory units for experiments, according to the state news agency, Xinhua.

Officials have asked the public to suggest names and symbols for the unit and for a cargo spacecraft that will serve it.

Professor Jiang Guohua, from the China Astronaut Research and Training Centre, said the facility would be designed to last for around a decade and support three astronauts working on microgravity science, space radiation biology and astronomy.

The project heralds a shift in the balance of power among spacefaring nations. In June, the US space agency, Nasa, will mothball its whole fleet of space shuttles, in a move that will leave only the Russians capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The $100bn (£60.5bn) outpost is itself due to fly only until 2020, but may be granted a reprieve until 2028.

Bernardo Patti, head of the space station programme at the European Space Agency (Esa), said: “China is a big country. It is a powerful country, and they are getting richer and richer. They want to establish themselves as key players in the international arena.

If mention of the Shuttles’ imminent retirement makes you wistful, A Rocket To Nowhere—a detailed and heavily critical dissection of the program—might help you feel better.

April 26, 2011 2:29 PM
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