China to launch space station by 2020

china-spaceAs we prepare for NASA’s space shuttle program to come to a close, China has unveiled its plan to create its own international space station. The China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) says the 60-ton space station will include three capsules and a cargo spaceship, and should be completed around 2020, according to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua.

“The 60-ton space station is rather small compared to the International Space Station [which is 419 tons], and Russia’s Mir Space Station [which is 317 tons] which served between 1996 and 2001,” research and deputy editor-in-chief of Space International Pang Zhihao told China Daily. Despite its smaller stature, Zhihao remarked that a multi-module space station is more of a rarity and means it will require more advanced technology and resources.

Countdown begins for space station programWhile the more complicated details will be left to engineers, the CMSEO is requesting that the public participate in naming the space station and cargo spaceship. Wang Wenbao from the office said taking these suggestions will “strengthen the national sense of cohesion and pride,” and says they will be looking for a “resounding and encouraging name.” Names can be submitted to www.cmse.gov.cn or e-mailed to kongjianzhan@vip.qq.cn. Space station name suggestions are due by July 25, and those for the cargo spaceship are due May 20.

China has been making strides in its space program. Last month government authorities laid out plans for a satellite navigation system. Citizens have been relying on US-based GPS providers, and the government-owned and –operated Beidou will challenge these competitors. It’s supposed to have full global coverage by 2020 and will also “provide services for mapping, transport, meteorology and telecommunications industries in the Asia Pacific region.” Until relatively recently, China has taken a back seat to international space travel, sending a man into orbit less than 10 years ago. Only three years have passed since Shenzhou 7 was sent into space and marked the nation’s first spacewalk. It’s an interesting political move to make as the future of space exploration and travel shifts to different international powers, and it’s inarguably an ambitious undertaking for the nation. But if any government has the manpower and engineering background, it’s China.

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