Tiangong space station

Summary

Tiangong Space Station[1]
Tiangong Space Station Rendering 2021.10.png
Rendering of Tiangong Space Station in October 2021, with Tianhe core module in the middle, Tianzhou at two ends and Shenzhou at nadir.
Station statistics
CrewFully crewed: 3
Currently aboard: 3
(Shenzhou 13)
Expedition: 2
Commander: Zhai Zhigang (PLAAC)
Launch29 April 2021 (Tianhe)
2022 (Wentian and Mengtian)
Launch padWenchang Spacecraft Launch Site LC-1
Mission statusUnder construction
Mass100,000 kg
Length~ 20.00 m
Diameter~ 4.20 m
Pressurised volumeHabitable: 110 m3 (3,880 cu ft) (planned)
Periapsis altitude389.5 km[2]
Apoapsis altitude395 km[2]
Orbital inclination41.58°[2]
Typical orbit altitude389.2 km[2]
Orbital speed7.68 km/s[2]
Orbital period92.2 minutes[3]
Days in orbit5 months, 21 days
(20 October 2021)
Days occupied4 days, 12 hours and 23 minutes[4]
(Shenzhou 13)
95 days, 2 hours and 31 minutes
(total)
Statistics as of 16 October 2021

Tiangong (Chinese: 天宫; pinyin: Tiāngōng; lit. 'Heavenly Palace'),[5][6] officially the Tiangong space station (Chinese: 天宫空间站), is a space station being constructed by China in low Earth orbit between 340 and 450 km (210 and 280 mi) above the surface. Being China's first long-term space station, it is the goal of the "Third Step" of the China Manned Space Program. Once completed, the Tiangong Space Station will have a mass between 80 and 100 t (180,000 and 220,000 lb), roughly one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station and about the size of the decommissioned Russian Mir space station but with more advanced technologies.

The construction of the station is based on the experience gained from its precursors, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2.[7][8][9] The first module, the Tianhe ("Harmony of the Heavens") core module, was launched on 29 April 2021,[5][6] followed by multiple crewed and uncrewed missions and two more modules to be launched by 2022.[7] Chinese leaders hope that research conducted on the station will improve researchers' ability to conduct science experiments in space, beyond the duration offered by China's existing space laboratories.[10]

Nomenclature

Deng Xiaoping decided[citation needed] that the names used in the space program, previously all chosen from the revolutionary history of the PRC, would be replaced with mystical-religious ones. Thus, the new Long March launch vehicles were renamed Divine arrow (神箭),[11][12] space capsule Divine vessel (神舟),[13] space shuttle Divine dragon (神龙),[14] land-based high-power laser Divine light (神光)[15] and supercomputer Divine might (神威).[16]

These poetic[17] names continue as the first, second, third, fourth and fifth Chinese Lunar probes are called Chang'e after the Moon goddess. The name "Tiangong" means "heavenly palace". Across the PRC the launch of Tiangong 1 inspired a variety of feelings, including love poetry. Within the PRC, the rendezvous of space vehicles is compared to the reunion of the cowherd and the weavergirl.[18]

Wang Wenbao, director of the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), told a news conference in 2011 "Considering past achievements and the bright future, we feel the manned space programme 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".[17][19][20] Imagery of the Chinese space program has been used by the Party (government) to strengthen its position and promote patriotism since the late 1950s and early 1960s.[21]

On 31 October 2013, CMSA announced the new names for the whole program:[8]

Purpose and mission

According to China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), which operates the space station, the purpose and mission of Tiangong space station is listed as: Further development of spacecraft rendezvous technology; Breakthrough in key technologies such as permanent human operations in orbit, long-term autonomous spaceflight of the space station, regenerative life support technology, and autonomous cargo and fuel supply technology; Test of next-generation orbit transportation vehicles; Scientific and practical applications at large-scale in orbit; Development of technology that can aid future deep space exploration.[28][29][30]

Operations will be controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center in China. To guarantee the safety of astronauts on board, a Long March 2F with a Shenzhou spacecraft will always be on standby for an emergency rescue mission.[31]

Structure

"T" concept of the Chinese large modular space station

The space station will be a third generation modular space station. First generation space stations, such as early Salyut, Almaz, and Skylab, were single piece stations and not designed for resupply. Second generation Salyut 6 and 7, and Tiangong 1 and 2 stations, are designed for mid-mission resupply. Third generation stations, such as Mir and the International Space Station, are modular space stations, assembled on-orbit from pieces launched separately. Modularised design methods can greatly improve reliability, reduce costs, shorten development cycle, and meet diversified task requirements.[7]

Solar arraySolar array
Solar arraySolar arrayDocking portSolar arraySolar array
Wentian
laboratory
Tianhe
core module
Mengtian
laboratory
Solar arrayEVA hatchDocking portDocking portSolar array

Modules

The initial target configuration for the end of 2022 consists of three modules, which may be expanded to six in the future.[32]

The Tianhe Core Cabin Module (CCM) provides life support and living quarters for three crew members, and provides guidance, navigation, and orientation control for the station. The module also provides the station's power, propulsion, and life support systems. The module consists of three sections: living quarters, service section and a docking hub. The living quarters will contain a kitchen and toilet, fire control equipment, atmospheric processing and control equipment, computers, scientific apparatus, communications equipment to send and receive communications via ground control in Beijing, and other equipment. An ISS Canadian-style SSRMS robotic arm was folded under the Tisane service section. Additionally, the Wentian experiment (described below) will carry a duplicate stowed second SSRMS robotic arm. In 2018 fullscale mockup of CCM was publicly presented at China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai. The video from CNSA revealed that two of these core modules have been built. Artist impressions have also depicted the two core modules docked together to enlarge the overall station.

Inside view of Tianhe in orbit, 2021.

The first of two Laboratory Cabin Modules, 'Wentian' and 'Mengtian' respectively, will provide additional navigation avionics, propulsion and orientation control as backup functions for the CCM. Both LCMs will provide a pressurised environment for researchers to conduct science experiments in freefall or microgravity which could not be conducted on Earth for more than a few minutes. Experiments can also be placed on the outside of the modules for exposure to the space environment, cosmic rays, vacuum, and solar winds.

Like Mir and the Russian orbital segment of the ISS, the Tiangong modules will be carried fully assembled into orbit, in contrast to the US Orbital Segment of the ISS, which required spacewalking to interconnect cables, piping, and structural elements manually. The axial port of the LCMs will be fitted with rendezvous equipment and will first dock to the axial port of the CCM. A mechanical arm similar to the Russian Lyappa arm used on the Mir space station will then move the module to a radial port of the CCM.[33] In addition to the Lyappa arm used for docking relocation, a 10-meters long robotic arm for exterior station operations is also mounted on the Tianhe module.[34]

Module Launch Time & International Designator Launch vehicle Docking Date and Position Length Diameter Mass Picture
Tianhe core module 29 April 2021, 2021 03:23:15 UTC

2021-035A

Long March 5B (Y2) (Core Module) 16.6 m (54 ft) 4.2 m (14 ft) 22,600 kg (49,800 lb)
Tianhe core module at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site
The Tianhe core module consists of three sections: the habitable living quarter, the non-habitable service section, and a docking hub.[35][36]
Wentian Laboratory Cabin Module May–June 2022 (Planned) Long March 5B (Y3) (Planned) May–June 2022 (Planned)

Front → Left of the Tianhe core module (Planned)

18 m (59 ft) 4.2 m (14 ft) ~20,000 kg (44,000 lb)
Plan of the Wentian module
One of the lab module, which also serves as the backup platform of the core module with capability of space station control and management. It has its own airlock served as main exit for future spacewalking and a second mechanical arm for the station.[36]
Mengtian Laboratory Cabin Module August–September 2022 (Planned) Long March 5B (Y4) (Planned) August–September 2022 (Planned)

Front → Right of the Tianhe core module (Planned)

18 m (59 ft) 4.2 m (14 ft) ~20,000 kg (44,000 lb)
Plan of the Mengtian module
One of the lab module. It has its own airlock for supplement and equipment transportation.[36]

Systems

Power supply

Electrical power is provided by two steerable solar power arrays on each module, which use gallium arsenide photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity. Energy is stored to power the station when it passes into the Earth's shadow. Resupply spacecraft will replenish fuel for the station's propulsion engines for station keeping, to counter the effects of atmospheric drag. The solar arrays are designed to last up to 15 years.[37]

Docking

Tiangong is fitted with Chinese Docking Mechanism used by Shenzhou spacecraft and previous Tiangong prototypes. The Chinese docking mechanism is based on the Russian APAS-89/APAS-95 system. Despite NASA describing it as a "clone" to APAS,[38] there have been contradictory claims on the compatibility of the Chinese system with both current and future docking mechanisms on the ISS, which are also based on APAS.[39][40][41] It has a circular transfer passage that has a diameter of 800 mm (31 in).[42][43] The androgynous variant has a mass of 310 kg and the non-androgynous variant has a mass of 200 kg.[44]

Chinese Docking Mechanism was used for the first time on Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1 space station and will be used on future Chinese space stations and with future Chinese cargo resupply vehicles.[45][39]

Propulsion

Tiangong space station is fitted with conventional chemical propulsion and ion thrusters to adjust and maintain the station's orbit. Four Hall-effect thrusters are mounted on the exterior wall of Tianhe core module.[46] The development of the Hall-effect thrusters is considered a sensitive topic in China, with scientists "working to improve the technology without attracting attention". Hall-effect thrusters are created with manned mission safety in mind with effort to prevent erosion and damage caused by the accelerated ion particles. A magnetic field and specially designed ceramic shield was created to repel damaging particles and maintain integrity of the thrusters. According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the ion drive used on Tiangong has burned continuously for 8,240 hours without a glitch during testing, indicating their suitability for Chinese space station's designated 15-year lifespan.[47] These are the world's first Hall thrusters on a human-rated mission.[48]

Experiments

The space station will have more than 20 experimental racks with enclosed, pressurized environment. Over 1,000 experiments are tentatively approved by China Manned Space Agency.[49] The programmed experiment equipment for the three modules as of June 2016 are:[9]

  • Space life sciences and biotechnology
    • Ecology Science Experiment Rack (ESER)
    • Biotechnology Experiment Rack (BER)
    • Science Glove-box and Refrigerator Rack (SGRR)
  • Microgravity fluid physics and combustion
    • Fluids Physics Experiment Rack (FPER)
    • Two-phase System Experiment Rack (TSER)
    • Combustion Experiment Rack (CER)
  • Material science in space
    • Material Furnace Experiment Rack (MFER)
    • Container-less Material Experiment Rack (CMER)
  • Fundamental Physics in Microgravity
    • Cold Atom Experiment Rack (CAER)
    • High-precision Time-Frequency Rack (HTFR)
  • Multipurpose Facilities
    • High Micro-gravity Level Rack (HMGR)
    • Varying-Gravity Experiment Rack (VGER)
    • Modularized Experiment Rack (RACK)

Additional spacecraft associated with the station

Spacecraft[a] Launch Time & International Designator Launch vehicle Operational Date Relation It Shares With The Space Station Length Diameter Mass Picture
Xuntian Space Station Telescope 2024 (Planned) Long March 5B (Planned) 2024 (Planned) A Major Space Telescope that shares the same orbit and visits or is visited by the Space Station at the time when it need repairs. 14 m (46 ft)[50] ~4.2 m (14 ft) 15,500 kg (34,200 lb)[50]
CSST Xuntian
Planned Chinese space station telescope currently under development. It will feature a 2 meter (6.6 foot) diameter primary mirror and is expected to have a field of view 300 times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope. This will allow the telescope to image up to 40 percent of the sky using its 2.5 gigapixel camera over ten years. It will co-orbit with the space station, which will allow for periodic docking with the station.

Construction

Planning

In 2011, the space station was planned to be assembled during 2020 to 2022.[51] By 2013, the space station's core module was planned to be launched earlier, in 2018, followed by the first laboratory module in 2020, and a second in 2022.[52] By 2018, this had slipped to 2020-2023.[24][53] A total of 11 launches are planned for the whole construction phase, now beginning in 2021.[54][55]

Assembly

A model of the launcher for modules, the Long March 5

The assembly method of the station can be compared with the Soviet-Russian Mir space station and the Russian orbital segment of the International Space Station. The construction of the modular station marks China to be the second nation to develop and use automatic rendezvous and docking for modular space station construction. The docking and assembly mechanism of the Tiangong station are based on or compatible with Russian design due to two iterations of cooperation in the past. During the cordial Sino-Soviet relations of the 1950s, the Soviet Union (USSR) engaged in a cooperative technology transfer program with the PRC, which helped kick-start the Chinese space program. The friendly relationship between the two countries turned to confrontation due to ideological difference on Marxism. As a consequence, all Soviet technological assistance was abruptly withdrawn after the 1960 Sino-Soviet split. The cooperation only restarted after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1994, Russia sold some of its advanced aviation and space technology to the Chinese. In 1995 a deal was signed between the two countries for the transfer of Russian Soyuz spacecraft technology to China. Included in the agreement was training, provision of Soyuz capsules, life support systems, docking systems, and space suits. In 1996, two Chinese astronauts, Wu Jie and Li Qinglong, began training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia. After training, these men returned to China and proceeded to train other Chinese astronauts at sites near Beijing and Jiuquan. The hardware and information sold by the Russians led to modifications of the original Phase One spacecraft, eventually called Shenzhou, which loosely translated means "divine vessel". New launch facilities were built at the Jiuquan launch site in Inner Mongolia, and in the spring of 1998 a mock-up of the Long March 2F launch vehicle with Shenzhou spacecraft was rolled out for integration and facility tests.[56]

A representative of the Chinese crewed space program stated that around 2000, China and Russia were engaged in technological exchanges regarding the development of a docking mechanism used for space station.[57] Deputy Chief Designer, Huang Weifen, stated that near the end of 2009, the Chinese agency began to train astronauts on how to dock spacecraft.[58]

International co-operation

China's incentive to build its own space station was amplified after NASA refused Chinese participation in the International Space Station in 2011,[59] a move that was criticized by various parties,[60][61][62] with China, Russia and Europe intended to keep a cooperative and multilateral approach in space.[63] Cooperation in the field of crewed space flight between the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) was examined in 2011, participation in the development of China crewed space stations and cooperation with China in the fields such as astronauts flight, and scientific research was discussed.[64] An initial cooperative agreement with China National Space Administration and Italian Space Agency was signed in November 2011, covering collaboration areas of space transportation, telecommunications, Earth observation, etc.[65] Italian experiment High Energy cosmic-Radiation Detection (HERD) is scheduled to be onboard the Chinese station.[66] Tiangong also involves cooperation from France, Sweden, and Russia.[67]

On 22 February 2017, CMSA and Italian Space Agency (ASI) signed an agreement to cooperate on long-term human spaceflight activities.[68] The agreement holds importance due to Italy's leading position in the field of human spaceflight with regard to the creation and exploitation of the International Space Station (Node 2, Node 3, Columbus, Cupola, Leonardo, Raffaello, Donatello, PMM, etc.) and it signifies Italy's increased anticipation in China's developing space station programme.[69] European Space Agency (ESA) started human spaceflight training with CMSEO in 2017, with the ultimate goal of sending ESA astronauts onto Chinese space station.[70]

International experiments are selected by CMSA and United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) on a UN session in 2019. 42 applications were submitted and nine experiments were accepted.[71] Some of the experiment are continuation to the ones on Tiangong-2 such as POLAR-2, an experiment of researching Gamma-ray burst polarimetry, proposed by Switzerland, Poland, Germany and China.[72] Tricia Larose from the University of Oslo of Norway develops a cancer research experiment for the station. The 31-days experiment will test to see if weightlessness has a positive effect in stopping cancer growth.[73] Tiangong is also expected to host experiments from Belgium, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Spain.[72]

Regarding the participation of foreign astronauts, CMSA repeatedly communicated their support for such proposal. On the press conference of Shenzhou 12 mission, Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of China Manned Space Program explained that multiple countries have expressed their wish in the participation. He told journalists that foreign astronauts' future participation "will be guaranteed".[74] Ji Qiming, an assistant director at CMSEO told reporters that he believes "in the near future, after the completion of the Chinese space station, we will see Chinese and foreign astronauts fly and work together."[75]

Life aboard

The station has a Wi-Fi network for wireless connection. Each astronaut wears a bone-conduction headphone and microphone for easy communication.[76] 120 different types of food, selected based on astronauts' preference, are stored aboard. Staples including shredded pork in garlic sauce, kung pao chicken, black pepper beef, pickled cabbage and beverages including a variety of teas and juices are resupplied by trips of the Tianzhou 2 cargo ship. Fresh fruits and vegetables are stored in coolers. Huang Weifen, chief astronaut trainer of CNSA, explains that most food is prepared to be solid, boneless, small-piece. Condiments such as pork sauce and Sichuan pepper sauce are used to compensate for the mainly temporary loss in taste during microgravity. The station is equipped with a small kitchen for food preparation and the first-ever microwave oven in spaceflight[77] so that astronauts can "always have hot food whenever they need."[78][79]

The station core module Tianhe provides living quarters for the crew members,[80][81] containing three separate bedrooms, toilet, shower facility, and gym equipment.[82] The crew quarters are substantially larger than that of International Space Station, featuring a bed in size of twin mattress, a small window, a headphone, ventilation and other amenities. Neuromuscular electrical stimulator is used to prevent muscle atrophy. The noise level in the working area is 58 decibels, while in the sleeping area, the noise is kept at 49 decibels.[83][84]

Operation

The station will be resupplied by crewed and robotic spacecraft.

Crewed mission

Initial crewed missions to Tiangong, including its first mission Shenzhou 12 lasting a planned 90 days, uses the Shenzhou spacecraft. Proceeding missions starting from Shenzhou 13 which lasts a planned 180 days will then become the norm duration stay at the Tiangong.[85]

China is testing a next-generation crewed spacecraft to eventually replace Shenzhou. It is designed to carry astronauts to the Chinese space station and offer the capability for the moon exploration. China's next-generation crew carrier is reusable with a detachable heat shield built to handle higher-temperature returns through Earth's atmosphere. The new capsule design is larger than the Shenzhou, according to Chinese officials. The spacecraft is capable of carrying astronauts to the Moon, and can accommodate up to six to seven crew members at a time, three more astronauts than that of Shenzhou.[86] The new crewed spacecraft has cargo section that allows astronauts bringing cargo back to Earth, whereas Tianzhou cargo resupply spacecraft is not designed to bring any cargo back to Earth.[86]

Cargo resupply

Tianzhou (Heavenly Vessel), a modified derivative of the Tiangong-1 spacecraft, will be used as robotic cargo spacecraft to resupply this station.[87] The launch mass of Tianzhou is expected to be around 13,000 kg with a payload of around 6,000 kg.[88] Launch, rendezvous and docking shall be fully autonomous, with mission control and crew used in override or monitoring roles. This system becomes very reliable with standardisations that provide significant cost benefits in repetitive routine operations. An automated approach could allow assembly of modules orbiting other worlds prior to crewed missions.[89]

List of missions

  • All dates are UTC. Dates are the earliest possible dates and may change.
  • Forward ports are at the front of the station according to its normal direction of travel and orientation (attitude). Aft is at the rear of the station, used by spacecraft boosting the station's orbit. Nadir is closest the Earth, zenith is on top. Port is to the left if pointing one's feet towards the Earth and looking in the direction of travel; starboard to the right.
Key
  Uncrewed cargo spacecraft are in light blue colour
  Crewed spacecraft are in light green colour
  Modules are in beige colour
Launch date (UTC) Docking date (UTC) Undocking date (UTC) Result Spacecraft Launch vehicle Launch site Launch provider Docking/berthing port Duration[b]
29 April 2021, 03:23:15[5] Success Tianhe Long March 5B China Wenchang LC-1 China CASC N/A
29 May 2021, 12:55:29[90] 29 May 2021, 21:01[91] TBD Tianzhou 2 Long March 7 China Wenchang LC-2 China CASC Tianhe forward[c]
17 June 2021, 01:22:27[92] 17 June 2021, 07:54[92] 16 September 2021, 00:56 [93] Shenzhou 12 Long March 2F China Jiuquan SLS-1 China CASC Tianhe forward 90 days, 14 hours and 8 minutes
20 September 2021, 07:10:11[94][95] 20 September 2021, 14:08[96] TBD Tianzhou 3 Long March 7 China Wenchang LC-2 China CASC Tianhe aft
15 October 2021, 16:23:56[97][98] 15 October 2021, 22:56[99] TBD Shenzhou 13 Long March 2F China Jiuquan SLS-1 China CASC Tianhe nadir
March–April 2022[100] TBD TBD Planned Tianzhou 4 Long March 7 China Wenchang LC-2 China CASC Tianhe aft
May 2022[101] TBD TBD Shenzhou 14 Long March 2F China Jiuquan SLS-1 China CASC Tianhe forward
May–June 2022[102] TBD Wentian Long March 5B China Wenchang LC-1 China CASC Tianhe port
August–September 2022[103] TBD Mengtian Long March 5B China Wenchang LC-1 China CASC Tianhe starboard
October 2022[104] TBD TBD Tianzhou 5 Long March 7 China Wenchang LC-2 China CASC Tianhe aft
November 2022[105] TBD TBD Shenzhou 15 Long March 2F China Jiuquan SLS-1 China CASC Tianhe nadir

End of mission

Tiangong is designed to be used for 10 years which could be extended to 15 years[106] and will accommodate three astronauts.[107] Chinese crewed spacecraft use deorbital burns to slow their velocity, resulting in their re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere. Vehicles carrying a crew have a heat shield which prevents the vehicle's destruction caused by aerodynamic heating upon contact with the Earth's atmosphere. The station itself has no heat-shield; however, small parts of space stations can reach the surface of the Earth, so uninhabited areas will be targeted for de-orbit manoeuvres.[52]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Excludes visiting cargo like Tianzhou and crew vehicles like Shenzhou that are meant for supplementing the space station
  2. ^ Duration is calculated from the moment of entry into the Tianhe core module to the time of undocking with the station.
  3. ^ Initially docked to aft port, moved to forward port on 18 Sep 2021

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External links

Media related to Tiangong at Wikimedia Commons

  • China Manned Space Program website