China’s space station

The new colonial movement: China’s propaganda news services today released an article outlining in a somewhat superficial manner the overall design and program of its first full-sized space station, Tiangong-3.

The article does not really provide any new information that was not already reported back in 2016, except for this intriguing detail:

The Long March-2F carrier rocket and Shenzhou manned spacecraft will be used to transport crew and some materials between Earth and the space station. The Shenzhou can carry three astronauts and be used as a rescue spacecraft in emergency.

Earlier reports had suggested they would be using their as-yet unnamed second generation manned capsule and the Long March 5B for these functions. It now appears that they are planning to use both manned ships, probably beginning with the Shenzhou and transitioning to the new manned capsule over time.

The article also describes again their plan to launch and fly in formation with the station a two-meter optical telescope, maintaining it in orbit during the 10-year life of the station using crew from the station. This concept was one that NASA actually considered when it was first conceiving Hubble, but put aside when it was realized that the U.S. station would not launch in time.

Note also that this Chinese space telescope is only slightly smaller than Hubble, its mirror 2 meters across compared to Hubble’s 2.4 meter diameter. It will thus be the second largest optical telescope ever launched, and if it works will allow for astronomical research that will dwarf all the giant ground-based telescopes western astronomers have spent all their time and millions building in the past two decades, rather than launch several Hubble twins.

India to build its own space station

The new colonial movement: India announced yesterday that it is beginning design work on its own space station, with a plan to begin construction and launch following its first manned mission, dubbed Gaganyaan, in 2022.

Giving out broad contours of the planned space station, Dr. Sivan [head of India’s space agency ISRO] said it has been envisaged to weigh 20 tonnes and will be placed in an orbit of 400 kms above earth where astronauts can stay for 15-20 days. The time frame is 5-7 years after Gaganyaan, he stated.

The announcement came out of the first meeting of what ISRO calls its Gaganyaan National Advisory Council, designed to bring together people from India’s space industry to prepare for that first manned flight in 2022.

China offers its space station to the UN

The United Nations and China have signed an agreement whereby UN member nations can apply to run experiments on China’s space station, due to become operational in the 2020s.

The UN press release states that it is especially interested in applications from developing nations.

This isn’t a surprise. China is following the approach of the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev during the 1970s and 1980s, using its space station program to generate positive international propaganda. This will also give them an opportunity to obtain technology ideas from other nations.

At the same time, this will force China to become more open with other nations, a side effect of Brezhnev’s space station program that was not expected or even wanted by the Russians at the time.

Another space station hotel company enters the market

Capitalism in space: A new space station hotel start-up, Orion Span, hopes to launch their first module by 2021, and begin accommodating guests by 2022.

Aurora Station will accommodate four paying guests and two crewmembers; these latter personnel will likely be former astronauts, Bunger said. Most of the guests will probably be private space tourists, at least initially, but Orion Span will be available to a variety of customers, including government space agencies, he added.

And the space hotel will get bigger over time, if everything goes according to plan. As demand grows, Orion Span will launch additional modules to link up with the original core outpost, Bunger said. “Our long-term vision is to sell actual space in those new modules,” he said. “We’re calling that a space condo. So, either for living or subleasing, that’s the future vision here — to create a long-term, sustainable human habitation in LEO [low Earth orbit].”

This makes three companies vying to build the first private space stations, with Bigelow and Axiom Space already in the game.

China to ramp up manned missions to build space station

In order to build its space station, beginning in 2019, China will increase its manned mission rate, completing four missions in five years.

This is still a somewhat glacial pace, compared to other nations. It will seem even slower based on what I expect will start happening once a number of competitive private American rockets begin hauling tourists into space.

The article notes one additional tidbit about China’s station. They plan to run 3 to 6 month long missions there.

China to launch full space station in 2018

The competition heats up: China has announced that it will launch the first module of its full space station, named Tianhe-1, in 2018.

The article also gives an short summary of China’s space plans in 2016:

2016 will also be a busy and crucial year for China. Assembly of its second space lab, Tiangong-2, has been completed and the space station prototype will launch in September. This is set to be followed a month later by the Shenzhou-11 crewed mission with two Chinese astronauts. It will also debut new launch vehicles, the Long March 5 and 7, which will greatly increase the country’s launch capabilities.

Long March 5 is capable of putting 25 tons in orbit, making it comparable to Boeing’s Delta 4 Heavy, the most powerful rocket presently operational.

More details about China’s space station, planned for launch in 2020

The competition heats up: The chief designer of China’s human space program revealed more details today about their planned space station in talking with reporters at China’s on-going parliamentary sessions.

Zhou Jianping, speaking to state media on the sidelines of China’s ongoing parliamentary sessions, explained that the project will include three modules, two 30m solar panel ‘wings’, two robotic arms and a telescope dubbed ‘China’s Hubble’. Zhou, who is a member of China’s top consultative body currently in session in Beijing, said the space station will comprise of a core module and two labs forming a T-shape, each weighing about 20 tons.

The core module is scheduled to be launched in 2018, by the new heavy lift Long March 5 rocket, which will make its maiden flight in September and be capable of lifting 25 tonnes to low Earth orbit.

“China’s Hubble” will be a module flying near the station so that if it needs maintenance the station astronauts will be able to do the work.

NASA denies new space station partnership with Russia

NASA officials today denied they were negotiating a partnership with Russia to build a space station replacement for ISS, as suggested yesterday by the head of Russia’s space program.

I am beginning to suspect that the misunderstanding here comes from NASA head Charles Bolden, who is in Russia right now. Knowing Bolden, who is a nice guy who likes to make others happy, he probably said some nice feel-good, kumbaya things to the Russians during conversations with them, things like “We want to keep working together,” and “We will support your plans for your future space station whole-heartedly.” None of this was meant as a commitment, but the Russians might have taken these statements more seriously than Bolden realized.

China’s next space station will also receive unmanned freighters

The competition heats up: The chief engineer of China’s manned program revealed that they are building an unmanned cargo freighter for their next space station, Tiangong-2, with both scheduled for launch in 2016.

Essentially the Chinese are repeated the steps the Russians took, adding docking ports to each new station module. The second will have two docking ports, one for manned craft and the second for cargo. Later modules will have multiple ports to which additional modules can be added.

The reasons behind Russia’s proposed new space station

Link here.

At the heart of the latest plan is the botched construction of the Multi-purpose Laboratory Module, MLM, the Russia’s next big piece of the International Space Station, ISS. After many years of delays, the price tag for the MLM project ballooned to one billion rubles, however the all-but-completed module had to be grounded until at least 2017 due to severe quality control problems during its manufacturing at GKNPTs Khrunichev in Moscow. Repairs of the module were estimated at another billion rubles and GKNPTs Khrunichev was expected to cover this cost from its own reserves. However, the nearly bankrupt company came back with an announcement that it already owed around a billion Euro and would not be able to pay for the future work. Even if repaired and successfully launched, the MLM module, which would have taken more than two decades to build, could arrive at the ISS on the eve of its retirement.

As an alternative, Russian space officials came up with a new scheme to build a whole new station around the MLM, instead of launching it to the ISS. The project with an estimated price tag from four to five billion rubles would cover a five-year delay in the construction of the ISS. The new Russian station would also utilize all future Russian modules, which were expected to follow MLM to the ISS, such as the Node Module, UM; the Science and Power Module, NEM; an Inflatable Habitat, and the OKA-T laboratory.

There’s more. Read it all.

Update on Russia’s proposed new space station project

Another article has been published in Russia describing the possibility of that country pulling out of ISS and building its own space station, as soon as 2017.

My impression of these stories is that the Russian government is considering taking the modules it has been slowly building for ISS and instead using them to assembly an independent station orbiting the Earth at an almost polar orbit, thereby giving them a much more complete view of their own country as well as the rest of the world.

Bigelow Aerospace hiring

The competition heats up: Bigelow Aerospace hired two former NASA astronauts today as part of a broader expansion of the company in anticipation of .the completion of its first two private space modules in 2017.

Bigelow said the smallest space station his company plans to fly will require two BA330 modules, each of which has 330 cubic meters of internal space. The company expects to finish building the first two BA330s by 2017, Bigelow said.

Ham and Zamka are former military aviators who have piloted and commanded space shuttle missions. Their NASA and military credentials are part of the appeal for Bigelow, who plans to put both former space fliers to work as recruiters. “I would like to see us have half a dozen astronauts onboard by the end of the year,” Bigelow said.

Each Bigelow Aerospace space station would require about a dozen astronauts, including orbital, ground and backup personnel. The 660-cubic-foot stations would host four paying clients, who would be assisted by three company astronauts responsible for day-to-day maintenance, Bigelow said. Initially, clients and crews would cycle in and out of the stations in 90-day shifts, Bigelow said. Eventually, the company hopes to shorten that cycle to 60 days.

The company had laid off many of its workers several years ago and was essential dormant, waiting for the development of some sort of affordable commercial manned spacecraft capability. It now appears they are expecting SpaceX, Boeing, or Sierra Nevada to succeed in providing this service in the next few years.

China reveals its space station plans.

China reveals its space station plans.

“China Space Station (CSS) will operate in orbit from 2022 to 2032. This period will provide much more opportunities to scientists in China and all of the world after the international space station,” Gu Yidong, president of the China Society of Space Research, said at the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research conference here Nov. 3 – 8. The station’s core module is slated to launch in 2018, followed by two laboratory modules in 2020 and 2022. The outpost will be located in an orbit ranging from 350 kilometers to 450 kilometers above Earth and inclined 42 degrees relative to the planet’s equator.

The article describes in detail their research plans on their station, which sound much the same as the kind of research done on ISS. I suspect this is a bit of misdirection. Their station is clearly designed as a prototype interplanetary station, much like Mir. I believe that any research they do on it will be focused around that fact, which will make that research significantly different that the work done on ISS, which is often not very effective and poorly focused.

Some more details have been revealed about Bigelow’s deal with NASA to send one of its modules to ISS.

Some more details have been revealed about Bigelow’s deal with NASA to send one of its modules to ISS.

This is apparently going to be another test of a smaller prototype, similar to Bigelow’s Genesis I and Genesis II modules already in orbit, but this time docked to a manned station.

What is interesting however about this article above is that reveals the names of the seven countries that have signed an agreement with Bigelow for future use of the company’s orbiting stations:

In another interesting development, Bigelow has named the seven sovereign customers who’ve expressed interest in leasing space aboard a future Bigelow commercial space station. Bigelow has preliminary agreements with the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Sweden and the United Arab Emirate of Dubai, according to Reuters. According to another report by Leonard David, Bigelow expects to have two BA 330 modules ready for construction of Space Station Alpha by late 2016. The Bigelow 330 is a much larger module, weighing 43,000 pounds with a diameter of 22 feet and length of 31 feet.

Bigelow Aerospace previously announced that it plans to charge sovereign customers $23 million for a 30-day stay aboard a Bigelow space station. That price includes space transportation, astronaut training, and consumables.

China is in its final preparations for the launch of its next manned mission.

The new colonial movement: China is in its final preparations for the launch of its next manned mission, expected any day now.

This is the key quote from the article:

China aims to build a space station around 2020 based on the space rendezvous and docking technology that is currently being tested. Several components will be sent into space separately before being assembled into a space station through a variety of docking procedures.

Private space station builder Bigelow is hiring again.

This bodes well: Private space station builder Bigelow is hiring again.

One interesting tidbit from this article is the description of the company’s negotiations with NASA to attach a Bigelow module to ISS.

The company has been negotiating with NASA for about two years on the potential deal, and that Bigelow has completed various planning and development milestones for NASA. “We’ve been in a series of discussions with NASA over the past two years, with regard to the BEAM project,” Gold told Space News. “They were initiated as part of a proposal in 2010, and we’re hopeful an announcement will be made in the not-too-distant future.”

NASA gave no sign that a deal with Bigelow was imminent. “We do have a no-cost contract with Bigelow to cover early requirements development [for BEAM] but it is not for the flight article,” NASA spokesman Josh Buck said in a March 20 email. “The Agency has not made a decision to go to a flight system yet.” [emphasis mine]

Two years to discuss “planning and development,” and still no decision. My guess is that NASA management doesn’t want to buy a Bigelow module, as it would be relatively cheap and therefore wouldn’t spread much money to NASA centers. They just can’t say no for political reasons.

And if they do want to do it, the slow pace of their decision-making process demonstrates clearly why they shouldn’t be entrusted to build anything in the future.

1 2