With the successful deployment of the core module of the new Chinese space station, the country is pushing forward with preparing to launch the first crewed mission to the station in June.
The Tianhe Core Module was launched April 29 aboard a Long March 5B from the Wenchang Launch Site on the southern coast of China. It provides life support and living quarters for a crew of three. It also integrates guidance, navigation and orientation control for the station.
With all the core functionality now operational, China intends to begin crewed missions to the station before the launch of two more modules in 2022 that will add additional crew quarters and laboratory space.
In preparation for the first crewed mission to the station, the country intends to launch a cargo mission aboard a Tianzhou spacecraft on May 20 atop a Long March 7. A crew-rated Shenzhou spacecraft will then follow on June 10 carrying China National Space Administration (CNSA) taikonauts Nie Haisheng, Deng Qingming, and Ye Guangfu.
With the core module offering resources for just three taikonauts, the Shenzhou 12 crew will likely depart before the three-person Shenzhou 13 crew is launched in October.
In total, two cargo and two crew missions are slated to be launched to the newly commissioned space station this year. In 2022, the Wentian and Mengtian modules will be added to the station which will play host to another two cargo and crew missions.
Much like the International Space Station, the Chinese space station has attracted cooperation from a number of countries around the world.
“By now, 17 foreign nations have confirmed their participation in nine scientific tasks on our station and related work is proceeding well,” said Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Agency. “Next, we will continue working with the UNOOSA to solicit proposals for future scientific collaborations.”
Earlier this month, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov announced the country’s intention to end its participation in the ISS project by 2024. In addition to working toward launching their own space station, recent reports have hinted that Russia and China were in talks to cooperate with the operation of the Chinese space station.
In addition to Russian cosmonauts, the Chinese space station is also expected to host astronauts from the European Space Agency (ESA).
ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Matthias Maurer joined 16 Chinese astronauts for 9 days in 2017 for sea survival training off the coast of China. The training was to be used as a stepping stone to launch European astronauts to the station by 2022. However, the two three-person crews slated to be launched next year have already been announced and do not include any ESA astronauts.