Beijing: With the launching of its manned spacecraft, Shenzhou-11, into orbit in a project designed to develop its ability to explore space, China on Monday came a step closer to complete its first space station by 2020 and operationalise services two years later.
The spacecraft, launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, has two astronauts on board — Jing Haipeng, 49, who has already been in space twice, and 37- year-old Chen Dong. They will dock with the experimental Tiangong 2 space lab and spend 30 days there, the longest stay in space by Chinese astronauts.
China was earlier prevented from participating in the US-led International Space Station (ISS). With the ISS set to retire in 2024, the Chinese station offers a promising alternative, and China will be the only country with a permanent space station, which will be more “economically efficient and informationised” than the ISS, Zhou Jianping, Chief Engineer of China’s manned space programme, told Xinhua news agency following the launch of Tiangong-2 on September 15 this year. It will be able to house a maximum of six astronauts at the same time and manned missions will become routine once the space station enters service, Zhou said.
Measuring 34.1 feet in length and up to 10.9 feet in diameter, the tube-like Tiangong-2 is hardly the size of a palace. The ISS, on the other hand, measures 357 feet end to-end — equivalent to the length of a football field. China also aims to send the Chang’e-5 probe to the moon, and to land a probe on Mars by 2021.