The Chinese space program is in tune with ambitions to have a space station orbiting Earth, by 2022. The prototype is called Tiangong 2 and it will be launched around 22:00 local time today, from a pad in the Gobi Desert.
Beijing wants space exploration to be a priority. China is the third country to put astronauts into orbit, after Russia and the United States.
The first prototype of the space station was launched in 2011. It was a smaller model called Tiangong 1.
For now, the space station prototype is not manned. It is more of an experiment, to see what improvements need to be done. A permanently staffed Chinese station will orbit Earth into the 2020s.
Tiangong 2 is an operational prototype, 15 meters longer than its first version. The astronauts will be able to spend one month aboard the “heavenly palace”, which is a translation for TIangong.
Once the astronauts board the Tiangong 2, they will start to do research. They will experiment with quantum communications, gamma rays, and fluid physics. They will also look at plant growth in zero gravity.
Another interesting fact is that the “heavenly palace” will feature an atomic clock which is extremely accurate: it loses one second every 30 million years.
This advancement will make space exploration easier and more accurate. China’s space ambitions are entirely civilian endeavors – according to Beijing officials.
The US Department of Defense believes that at least some elements could be targeted at stopping enemy satellites, in the case of a military confrontation.
In August, China saw the launch of the first “quantum satellite” which should enable hack-proof communications between Earth’s Lower Orbit and Earth.
China has joined the space race a bit late. In 2001 they launched spaceships with live animals and in 2003 astronaut Yang Liwei was the first Chinese to go into orbit. This made China a member of a very select club, one that includes the only three nations which put manned missions into space.
By the year 2024, China estimates it will achieve putting an astronaut on the moon. On the long term, Beijing envisions a trip to Mars, scheduled for the 2050s.
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