China’s Space Race Kicks Into High Gear With The Tiangong-1 Space Station

This week China has stepped up it’s ambitious space plans by launching it’s first space station.  This space station will be able to house 3 astronauts for short durations.  A major reason for China launching a space station is so that they can test out space docking procedures, which will be needed for larger space stations and for a manned trip to the moon.  China’s first space station is only scheduled to have two manned missions and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and crash into the Pacific Ocean if any pieces should survive re-entry. While all these plans seem quite peaceful, the U.S. government is not working directly to advance China’s space programs, and Russia is only supplying certain items in search of profit. 

While this is a major accomplishment for the Chinese, Both Russia and America’s first space station was launched in 1973   These American and Russian stations also housed 3 astronauts for limited durations.  So, while this Chinese space station isn’t a breakthrough in spaceflight, it is a necessary stepping stone on the way to advanced spaceflight.  Chinese astronauts will launch in a Shenzhou spacecraft attached to a Long March 2F rocket to the unmanned Tiangong-1 space station after the station has been launched on another Long March 2F T1 rocket from Northwest China. China is exclusively using one rocket for all of it's launches of spacecraft and space stations. So far this rocket has performed well but if a design flaw were to be found the entire Chinese space program would be completely grounded. It is also thought that this rocket is not powerful enough to make a moon launch possible. We will have to see the Chinese developing a heavy to super-heavy launch vehicle before a manned moon shot would be possible.

China’s plans include three missions to the station, two of which will be manned, will carry many experiments and tests designed to improve China’s ability to explore space.  The first of these missions will  test the docking mechanisms in an unmanned flight.  The next flight should include a 2 to 3 week stay on the space station for 3 astronauts to conduct laboratory experiments.  This flight is also intended to re-supply the station with essential materials such as water and fuel.  The last manned flight to this station will include another couple of weeks for lab experiments and may also include China’s first female astronaut.  After these flights, the space station is due to be destroyed through atmospheric re-entry but China is planning on launching two almost identical Tiangong stations for continuing space research. 

While this space station poses no threat to the world, it does show China’s commitment to explore space.  This all seems quite peaceful but it must be mentioned that China’s space program is controlled directly by the Chinese military.  It has been mentioned that modern militaries depend on satellites for such things as navigation or communication and disabling satellites could give a huge advantage in time of war.  While these Chinese space stations are not intended as weapon platforms, they are advancing Chinese space technology in a variety of ways directly for the Chinese military.  There is nothing that we can do to stop these missions and even if we could they only seem to be peaceful and with similar aims and technology as major space powers have used in the past.  We can only watch and see how China’s space program turns out, hopefully we will be able to co-operate with them in the future for mutual benefit.

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