The China Manned Space Engineering Office unveiled the first model of its planned space station this week, something that it hopes to take out into the black by 2020. At a mere 60 tons, the entire facility is much smaller than the International Space Station, which weighs in at 419 tons. Currently, the Chinese space station is named Tiangong, which translates to “heavenly palace,” though the space agency is taking suggestions on names up until July 25, which can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
China will launch a small 8.5 ton space laboratory called Tiangong 1 in 2011. Following Tiangong 1, a more advanced space laboratory complete with cargo ship called Tiangong 2 will be built. The project will culminate with Tiangong 3 which will consist of a 20-ton core module, 2 smaller research modules, and cargo transport craft. The previous separate components will be integrated into a space station, arranged as:
- Core Cabin Module (CCM) – based on the Tiangong 3 “space station” and analogous to the Mir Core Module. The 18.1-meter-long core module, with a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a launch weight of 20 to 22 tons, will be launched first.
- Laboratory Cabin Module I (LCM-1) and Laboratory Cabin Module II (LCM-2) – based on Tiangong 2 “space laboratory”. Each laboratory module is 14.4 meters long, with the same maximum diameter and launch weight of the core module.
- Shenzhou – manned vessel
- Shenzhou cargo craft – based on Shenzhou 8. It will have a maximum diameter of 3.35 meters and a launch weight less than 13 tons, to transport supplies and lab facilities to the space station.
The larger station will be assembled in 2020-2022 and have a design lifetime of ten years. The complex will weigh approximately 60,000 kilograms (130,000 lb) and will support three astronauts for long-term habitation. The public is being asked to submit suggestions for names and symbols to adorn the space station and cargo ship. “Considering past achievements and the bright future, we feel that the manned space program should have a more vivid symbol and that the future space station should carry a resounding and encouraging name,” Wang Wenbao, director of the office, said at the news conference. “We now feel that the public should be involved in the names and symbols as this major project will enhance national prestige, and strengthen the national sense of cohesion and pride,” Wang said