A new schedule for China’s space station program

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China revealed today that they will launch their second small prototype space station in 2016, followed by the launch and assembly of their full size station from 2018 to completion in 2022.

The 2016 launch date for their second station actually indicates that the program has experienced some delays, as earlier they had said it would launch in 2015.



  • wodun

    You have made several references to China using their station as a space ship, are there any systems on their station that give support to this?

  • I’m not sure I understand your question. Any space vessel that can be occupied by humans for any length of time is a spaceship as far as I am concerned. The difference is that these modules and stations, as was Mir, are merely prototypes for figuring out the engineering needed to build a real ship that can then go to other planets.

    However, once you have that engineering figured out, as the Russians had mostly done with Mir, all you really need to do is attach engines to the system and send it on its way. In the case of Mir, the Russians successfully developed a closed system for water and much of their air. Mir was very close to being a finished interplanetary spaceship when it was de-orbited.

    As for the Chinese, they have made it very clear that they are using these stations as testbeds for building ships that can carry humans beyond Earth orbit. It makes perfect sense, which of course is why NASA management doesn’t focus on it at ISS like the Russians and Chinese do.

  • Jake

    Robert: I’ve always understood that China stole most of the technology it uses, without really even re-working it so that it doesn’t look stolen. Is this correct? If yes, how realistic it is that someday China will surpass the U.S. and/or the West with space technology? Related question would the same for non-space technology (i.e., iPhones are popular in China, and while they are made there they are not designed there and the native-Chinese designs are at best poor copies).

    Excellent blog, Thanks!

  • China steals a great deal for sure. For example, their manned spacecraft designs are essentially upgraded versions of the Russian Soyuz/Salyut/Mir vessels.

    The key word here however is “upgraded.” Their spacecraft are not copies but redesigns with many capabilities added and greater capacity. To say they stole everything would be to blind ourselves to what they have achieved on their own.

    Having said that, they face the same problem the Russians seem to face, a culture that works from the top down and thus does not do innovation well. Individual creativity is not culturally encouraged in these nations, and so while they can take advantage of what we learn and thus build on that, they cannot innovate in a way that will beat us. The Russians are a good example, They became essentially free to compete in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. More than two decades later their space program has done nothing new at all, and is now being absorbed back into the government.

    I hope that answers your question.

  • Cotour

    Unrelated but related:


    Can we understand this cycle and modify what history tells us about what would seem inevitable? Or does society over time create dependency, perversion and weakness and there is nothing we can do about it? Is the existence of the Constitution the one variable that will allow us to get a hold of our future and once again be where it is that we need to be? Comments?

  • Jake

    Yes, it does answer my question, thank you. My ‘take away’ is that while China remains communist it will be able to take the technology developed in free nations and improve on it, but that as a nation individual creativity will be so malnourished that they really won’t produce anything new.

    China remains a threat to freedom, but I think as time goes on that threat will diminish. The “one child policy” has lead to an incredible graying of China, in another twenty years the majority of the people in China will be over 60. Or, to look at it another way, every person in China under 30 will be working to support 7 or 8 people over 60. Further, I think the culture will change. There are not more Christians in China than members of the Communist Party. It’s still a small percentage but when it gets to 10% or 20% the values that Christians have will be there to shine brightly against the nefarious Communists who now control China. Much change is ahead.

    Thanks again, Robert, for the excellent blog.

  • wodun

    Well, to me a space ship is one that travels someplace rather than just jogs in place in orbit. Your prior comments implied that the Chinese station itself would be traveling and I was wondering if there are design features that would lead to this conclusion.

    “As for the Chinese, they have made it very clear that they are using these stations as testbeds for building ships that can carry humans beyond Earth orbit.”

    This clarification makes sense but it also raises the question of what form the follow on ships will be. I guess we will have to wait and see.

  • wodun

    “so while they can take advantage of what we learn and thus build on that, they cannot innovate in a way that will beat us. ”

    Perhaps but they need not out innovate us to win in a competition we choose to ignore is taking place.

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