China has begun seeking international involvement in its future space station, which would include the contribution of foreign modules connected to China’s core station, which is composed of three modules. The station’s chief designer, Zhou Jianping, declined to confirm whether China’s station would use a standard docking design that is under development by Europe and the U.S.
The China Manned Space Program’s first mission is projected to launch in 2018 and will be carrying the station’s core module. Two additional modules for science experiments will follow, according to Zhou. He went on to say, “Work is well under way. All the modules and associated vehicles are under development.”
The station’s typical crew would consist of three with a maximum for six. Operations for missions would last up to six months at a time. Under the current schedule, the station will be fully operational around 2022.
Like the International Space Station (ISS), China’s station would be operating at an altitude of around 250 miles, with a projected lifespan of more than 10 years. The ISS currently operates as a collaborative effort between the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada and is expected to be in operation until at least 2024.
Russia and Europe have expressed the desire to continue their commitments to the ISS until that date, while Japan continues to deliberate on the issue.
Despite China’s hesitancy to adopt the current docking standard, the European Space Agency has entertained the prospect of future missions to the station by training its astronauts in Chinese. Zhou also stated that China has plans to launch its own space telescope, which will be able to dock with the Chinese space station for maintenance.
In order to foster an attitude of cooperation with China, the U.S. may have to first end its four year old ban on cooperation between NASA and the China Manned Space Program. Former Congressman Frank Wolf inserted the ban into the U.S. budget as a protest against China’s attitudes towards intellectual property and human rights.