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Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Assembly of 'Chinese Space Station' to Begin 2018 with Launch of Tianhe-1 Core Module

2022

(Photo : CAST) The completed Chinese Space Station.

"Tianhe-1," the modular core module of the "Chinese Space Station" (CSS), will be orbited in 2018 as the first step towards assembling CSS, which will be the only one in space after the International Space Station (ISS) is retired in 2024.

Tianhe (Chinese for "Harmony of the Heavens") will be the payload aboard the new-generation Long March-5 heavyweight carrier rocket, said Bao Weimin, director with China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

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Assembly of the core module has been completed and tests are currently under way, said Bao. This procedure will be followed by a series of launches for other components of the space station, including the six major components over the next four years or so.

The precursor to the CSS is Tiangong-1, China's first prototype space station. Tiangong-1 (Chinese for "Heavenly Palace") served as both a manned laboratory and an experimental test bed for orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities.

Tianhe-1 and Tiangong-3 will be components of the much larger Chinese Space Station, which will be parked in low Earth orbit like the ISS. CSS, however, will be one-sixth the mass of the ISS and half the size of the decommissioned Russian Mir Space Station.

CSS is expected to have a mass between 60 and 70 metric tons. It will be much smaller in size than the ISS, which spans 109 meters x 73 meters, and weighs 420 metric tons.

Bao claims CSS (also called the Chinese large modular space station) will function for "dozens of years." He also claims CSS was specially designed to withstand impacts from small pieces of space debris.

"For the big pieces (of space debris), we could conduct evasive maneuvers, and for those measuring less than 10 cm in size, we just take the hit," said Bao.

He said the next five years will see exciting advances in China's military-run space program.

Apart from Tianhe-1 and Tiangong-3, the other components of the CSS are:

* Wentian, or the Modular Space Station Experiment Module I. Wentian means "Quest for the Heavens."

* Mengtian, or the Modular Space Station Experiment Module II, Mengtian means "Dreaming of the Heavens."

* Tianzhou, or the cargo transport spacecraft. Tianzhou means "Heavenly Ship."

* Xuntian, an experimental module. Xuntian means "Heavenly Cruiser."

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