In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the core module of China’s space station, Tianhe, on the the Long March-5B Y2 rocket is moved to the launching area of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China’s Hainan Province on April 23, 2021. China plans to launch the core module for its first permanent space station this week in the latest big step forward for the country’s space exploration program. The Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony” module is set to be hurtled into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The launch could come as early as Thursday night, April 29, 2021 if all goes as planned. (Guo Wenbin/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the core module of China’s space station, Tianhe, on the the Long March-5B Y2 rocket is moved to the launching area of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China’s Hainan Province on April 23, 2021. China plans to launch the core module for its first permanent space station this week in the latest big step forward for the country’s space exploration program. The Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony” module is set to be hurtled into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The launch could come as early as Thursday night, April 29, 2021 if all goes as planned. (Guo Wenbin/Xinhua via AP)

China to launch Heavenly Harmony space station core module

11 missions planned by end of 2022

BEIJING — China plans to launch the core module for its first permanent space station this week in the latest big step forward for the country’s space exploration program.

The Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony” module is set to be hurtled into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan. The launch could come as early as Thursday night if all goes as planned.

It would be the first of 11 missions to build and supply the space station for a three-person crew.

Here’s a look at the planned launch and the past and future of China’s space program.

11 MISSIONS PLANNED TO COMPLETE SPACE STATION BY END OF 2022

Another 10 launches will send up two more modules; four cargo supply shipments and four missions with crews. At least 12 astronauts are training to fly to and live in the station, including veterans of previous flights, newcomers and women.

When completed by late 2022, Tianhe is expected to weigh about 66 tons, a fraction the size of the International Space Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and will weigh about 450 tons when completed. Tianhe will have a docking port and will also be able to connect with a powerful Chinese space satellite. Theoretically, it could be expanded with more modules.

Tianhe’s main module will initially be about the size of the American Skylab space station of the 1970s and the former Soviet/Russian Mir, which operated for more than 14 years after launching in 1986.

SPACE STATION A LONG-TERM GOAL

China has launched two experimental modules over the past decade in preparation for a permanent station. One, Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly Palace-1” was abandoned and burned up during an uncontrolled loss of orbit. Its successor, Tiangong-2, was successfully taken out of orbit in 2018.

China began preparations for a space station in the early 1990s as its space program gained momentum. It was excluded from the ISS largely due to U.S. objections over the Chinese program’s secretive nature and close military ties.

SPEEDY PROGRESS IN SPACE

After years of successful rocket and commercial satellite launches, China put its first astronaut into space in October 2003. It was only the third country to independently do so after the former Soviet Union and the United States. Since that Shenzhou 5 mission, China has sent other astronauts into orbit, placed crews on the original Tiangong station and conducted a space walk.

It also has increased co-operation with space experts from other countries, including France, Sweden, Russia and Italy. NASA must get permission from a reluctant Congress to engage in such contacts.

China also has pushed ahead with crewless missions, particularly in lunar exploration and has landed a rover on the little-explored far side of the Moon. In December, its Chang’e 5 probe returned lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the U.S. missions of the 1970s.

MARS ROVER AND FUTURE AMBITIONS

The Tianhe mission comes just weeks before a Chinese probe is due to land on Mars, which would make China only the second country to successfully accomplish that after the U.S. The Tianwen-1 space probe has been orbiting the red planet since February while collecting data. Its Zhurong rover will be looking for evidence of life.

Another Chinese program aims to collect soil from an asteroid, a key focus of Japan’s space program.

China plans another mission in 2024 to bring back lunar samples and has said it wants to land people on the moon and possibly build a scientific base there. No timeline has been proposed for such projects. A highly secretive space plane is also reportedly under development.

HOW COMPETITIVE IS CHINA’S PROGRAM?

China’s program has advanced in a steady, cautious manner on a carefully designed schedule, largely avoiding the failures seen in the U.S. and Russian efforts when they were locked in intense competition during the heady early days of spaceflight. One recent setback came when a Long March 5 rocket failed in 2017 during development of the Long March 5B variant that will be used to put the Tianhe module into orbit, but engineers moved swiftly to fix the problem.

Critics say China’s space program has successfully reproduced the achievements of the U.S. and Russia without breaking much new ground. The country’s rising technological prowess may end such talk in coming years. The country may need greater private sector involvement to spur innovation, as the U.S. has done with SpaceX and Blue Origin, and to apply new technologies such as reusable rockets.

By The Associated Press

Aviation and spaceChina

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Regional Airport CEO Graham Ingham has ambitious plans for the airport. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer Regional Airport revenues climb in 2020

Bringing in more business is the 2021 goal, says director

City council will have to wait longer to hear back from administration on possible alternative sites — if the homeless shelter is moved from Red Deer downtown. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alternative sites for homeless shelter will be explored by the City of Red Deer

Council gave administration more time to return with a report

Quentin Lee Strawberry was found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with stabbing death of Joseph Gallant in March 2019. (Photo from RCMP)
Updated: O’Chiese man found not guilty of 2019 stabbing death of Red Deer man

Quentin Strawberry found guilty of assaulting murdered man’s common-law partner

(Advocate file photo).
City of Red Deer property tax bills are in the mail

Red Deer 2021 tax notices are on their way. Red Deer property… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks’ Nils Hoglander (36) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during first-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Edmonton Oilers' Dominik Kahun (21) celebrates with teammate Connor McDavid (97) after scoring the third goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Rory McIlroy tees off on the fourth hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

Canada , left to right, lead Briane Meilleur, third Val Sweeting, skip Kerri Einarson, and second Shannon Birchard discuss strategy against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. Both of Canada's teams were shut out of the medals, marking the first time ever that Canada did not reach the podium at either the men's or women's worlds in the same season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Canada's Tyler Ardron, right, tries to block the kick by Italy's Callum Braley during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match in Fukuoka, western Japan, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kyodo News via AP
Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

John Velazquez, right, rides Medina Spirit ahead of Florent Geroux aboard Mandaloun to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Darron Cummings
Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Canada forward Liam Millar (23) moves the ball past Bermuda defender Eusebio Blankendal (2) during the second half of a World Cup 2022 Group B qualifying soccer match Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Raoux
Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Most Read