China Plans to Launch First Orbiting Space Station in 2023

Foreign space programs show signs of cooperation and less competition.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, an Expedition 36 flight engineer, uses a 400mm lens to photograph Earth some 250 miles below him in the International Space Station. (NASA)

China has announced that it will launch its first orbiting space station 10 years from now, Sept. 26, 2013.

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China plans to launch its first orbiting Space Station by 2023, officials announced at the 64th International Astronautical Congress that began Sept. 23 in Beijing.

The station itself will consist of three capsules. One capsule contains a core module while the other two contain laboratories. The space station will also be equipped with a cargo craft to ferry supplies to and from the station. The core module alone is expected to weigh at least 20 metric tons.

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The space station is expected to hold six individuals for short-term missions and three for lengthier ones.

Xu Dazhe, general manager of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told the BBC that his company's primary effort will be to research and develop improved orbit refueling technologies and sustainable life support.

Xu told reporters that China will launch Tiangong-2 in two years, in preparation for the launch of the space station. Tiangong-2 will act as a trial capsule allowing China's team to adjust and experiment with the technologies the space station will require.

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Once the space station is functioning and ready for orbit, the Chinese plan to use it to collect data on technical tests that require long-term orbits into space.

China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang, told the IAF that China would welcome foreign astronauts for possible missions in the future. Some say this is a huge step toward partnership and unity in an industry that has sustained considerable competition on a global scale.

"The congress should help strengthen international cooperation with China," Berndt Feuerbacher, former president of the International Astronautical Federation, told the audience in attendance at the conference. He said that international cooperation in this endeavor is necessary for the advancement of our understanding of the world beyond Earth.

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