China has successfully launched the Tiangong-1, a prototype laboratory for China’s very first orbiting space station. Witness the launch that took place yesterday by viewing the video below and see how Beijing’s conquest of space is literally “taking off” and catching up to the United States.
The Chinese originally planned to launch this rocket a year a go. The carrier rocket with the orbiting laboratory module was first rolled out in the spring of 2010 and the launch of Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace-1) was scheduled for the beginning of 2011.
But in January, the launch was pushed back to the second half of 2011. Preparations for the latest launch attempt began in August: it was first reported that Tiangong-1 would be orbited before September but the date was finally set for September 29, 2011.
Tiangong-1’s four objectives:
- To practice approach and docking maneuvers with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft already in orbit (scheduled for late November). Together they will form the first prototype for a Chinese orbiting station.
- To check the operation of a common control system, with Tiangong-1 playing the leading role.
- To test the life-support system shared by the two spacecrafts.
- To carry out a series of tests for a future manned station.
Once the Shenzhou-8 program is complete, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 will be sent to the station. They will be manned spaceships. The construction and launch of Tiangong-1 and the three related space missions will cost China 15 billion yuan ($2.35 billion).
The Shenzhou-10 expedition will also include the first female taikonaut: 33-year-old Wang Yaping, a military transport pilot from the People’s Liberation Army of China, who will be sent into orbit in 2013.
Chinese Design Similarities
China is rapidly catching up with Russia and the United States. It seem’s completely hell bent to accomplish their space ambitions all on their own, without sharing any common Russian or American program information.
Taking a hard look at the Tiangong-1 and you’ll easily see many similarities with past Soviet rocketry. Surprisingly, the Chinese are rather open about how their design plans strike such a strong resemblance with the Russian’s Soyus rocket (to this date the Soyuz Rocket design has proven to be the most reliable and most affordable to operate).
But Tiangong-1 is smaller than it’s Russian predecessor – it weighs a mere 8.5 metric tons, compared with the Soviet 18-19 ton payload – due to China’s lack of a carrier rocket able to lift a heavier payload into orbit.
The Chinese, like their Soviet counterparts, are first planning to put together an orbiting station from docked pairs: the Tiangong-1 and a standard manned ship of the Shenzhou type. But Chinese engineers are not going to take their time.
Currently, Chinese spacecraft designers are using the same technology that the United States and the Soviet Union had back in the late 1960’s. But, judging from displayed concepts, the Shenzhou and Tiangong tandems will give place to more sophisticated designs within several years’ time, designs comparable to the Soviet Mir and conceptually close to the ISS.
Beijing’s future role in space
The emergence of the Chinese having a dominant role in space looks rather promising when you consider that the International Space Station is set to expire in 2020. After that, their’s only one other space station that will be orbiting the earth, and it’s not going to be Russia’s or America’s, it’s going to be China’s Heavenly Palace.