April 28, 2011

China Working On Its Own Space Outpost

China is working on a multi-capsule space outpost that could rival the International Space Station.

China unveiled plans for the new outpost yesterday, laying out details of ambitions for new space station to be built in orbit within a decade.

The project is the latest phase in China's rapidly developing space program.

According to the state news agency Xinhua, the space outpost will weigh around 66 tons and consist of a core module with two laboratory units for experiments.

Professor Jiang Guohua of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center said the facility would be designed to last for about a decade and support three astronauts at a time.

The $100 billion International Space Station is due to fly only until 2020, but may be reprieved until 2028.

Bernardo Patti, head of the space station program at the European Space Agency (ESA), told The Guardian:  "China is a big country. It is a powerful country, and they are getting richer and richer. They want to establish themselves as key players in the international arena."

"They have decided politically that they want to be autonomous, and that is their call. They must have had some political evaluation that suggests this option is better than the others, and I would think autonomy is the key word."

The central module for the Chinese space station will be 59.4-feet long, with a diameter of 13-feet and a launch weight of about 22 tons. 

NASA adviser John Logsdon said China's plans would give it homegrown expertise in human space flight.

"China wants to say: 'We can do everything in space that other major countries can do,'" he told The Guardian. "A significant, and probably visible, orbital outpost transiting over most of the world would be a potent political symbol."

Wang Wenbao, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, told a news conference: "Considering past achievements and the bright future, we feel the manned space program should have a more vivid symbol, and that the future space station should carry a resounding and encouraging name.

"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."

China plans to complete this project by 2020.