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China Releases Schedules for Upcoming Manned and Related Orbital Space Missions

Feb. 28, 2016 (EIRNS)—China’s manned space program has announced the time-line for the launch of the Tiangong-2 space module, the next manned mission which will dock with it, and the launch of its new unmanned cargo craft. These are all elements preparatory to its assembly of a full-sized space station in the 2018-2022 timeframe.

The Tiangong-2 will be launched in the third quarter of this year. The 8.5 ton module, similar to Tiangong-1, will have improved technology, and have new tasks, such as in-orbit refueling, and a longer lifetime for crew life support systems, to enable longer missions. The Shenzhou-11 manned craft will then dock with the Tiangong-2 in the fourth quarter of this year, to test the new technology, and stay perhaps up to 15 days.

Following the Shenzhou-11 manned mission to the module, the new Tianzhou-1 unmanned cargo vessel, similar to the Russian Progress ship, will dock with Tiangong-2, during the first half of next year. Resupply of cargo will be a prerequisite to servicing a long-duration crew on the future space station. Each component of the future space station will weigh 20 tons, very similar to Russia’s Mir space station in the 1990s, as compared to the 8.5-ton Tiangong series.

This year, China will also do first test flights of a new series of launch vehicles, which are needed to launch these new segments of its manned space program. The mid-sized Long March 7 rocket will be used to launch the cargo vehicle next year, and is getting assembled for its test flight. The heavy-lift Long March 5 will be needed to launch the 20-ton segments of the space station, as well as future, more complex and heavier, lunar missions. It is is also being prepared for a test launch later this year.

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