Tiangong

Chinese Space Station Tiangong

Chinese manned space station programme. Development from 2010. First core module scheduled for launch in 2018. Assembly expected to complete by 2022.

Type: Space station. Crew size: 3 to 6. Programme: Project 921-III. Agency: CMSA. Primary contractor: CASC. Status: In development. First launch: exp. 2018. Designed life: 10 years. Orbit: 340—450 km LEO, 42.5° inclination. Mass: 60 to 80 tonnes


China’s space station plan emerged in the mid-1980s against a background of a global race to establish permanent human presence on Earth orbit. The Soviet Union had successfully orbited a number of Salyut/Almaz space stations and was about to begin the construction of a larger multi-module station Mir. The U.S. government had put the Space Shuttle in orbit and also unveiled an ambitious plan to build Space Station Freedom. Japan and Europe also announced their plans to send human into space. Chinese space professionals felt that without the country’s own manned space programme China may fall behind other nations in this new space race.

The goal of constructing an Earth-orbiting manned space station was set very early on in China’s human spaceflight plan. Under the 863 Programme (state high-tech R&D initiative), two expert groups were set up in February 1987 to draw up plans for the crew transportation system and a manned space station respectively. While the choice for the crew transportation system between space shuttle and manned capsule sparked heated debates within the space community, having a space station (as opposite to landing human on the Moon) as the ultimate goal for the future manned space programme was never a point of contention.

China’s space station plan mirrors the approach of the Soviet Union / Russia in its space station programme, with the launch of a series of smaller, single-module, temporarily man-tended orbital stations (Salyut/Almaz Programme) to demonstrate all the relevant technologies, before moving on to the construction of a larger, multi-module, permanently-occupied space station. Chinese space professionals faced additional difficulty in the lack of a heavy-lift launch vehicle that could loft large space station modules to orbit. As a result, smaller 8,000 kg-class Space Laboratory modules were proposed as a stepping stones to perfect the required techniques such as orbital rendezvous docking.

By the early 1990s, the Chinese space industry had formulated a three-stage plan over a timespan of 30 years to develop China’s human spaceflight technology: first to send human into space aboard the manned capsule, followed by the development of advanced spaceflight techniques including EVA and rendezvous docking and the launch of 8-tonne-class experimental Earth-orbiting modules in the second phase, and finally to build a 20-tonne-class permanently-manned space station in the third phase.

In February 2005, the Chinese government approved the follow-up missions in Phase-II of the manned spaceflight programme, with the objective to develop advanced space flight techniques including extra-vehicular activity (EVA) and orbital rendezvous docking in support of the future space station programme. The first of these missions Shenzhou 7 was launched in 2008, which saw two Chinese astronauts performing a 20-minute spacewalk.

In October 2005, the State Council published the National Outline on Medium- and Long-Term Science and Technology Development (2006—2020), which put human spaceflight and lunar exploration as one of the China’s 16 key science and technology projects over the next fifteen years, effectively enshrining the space station programme into the national strategy. Over the next three years, the PLA General Armaments Department (GAD) worked with the space industry and other research institutions to draw up a plan for the implementation of the space station programme.

In September 2010, the Chinese government formally approved the manned space station programme. Chinese official writings described the objectives of the programme as “to build an operational manned space station on Low Earth Orbit (LEO) around 2020, allowing the grasp of long-term inhabitation of space, acquiring the capability to conduct long-duration, man-tended scientific and technological experiments in orbit, and enabling comprehensive exploration and utilisation of space resources”.

The original manned spaceflight plan proposed to use the orbital module of the Shenzhou spacecraft vehicle as the target for a second Shenzhou vehicle to practice orbital rendezvous docking, followed by the launch of three Space Laboratory modules to demonstrate medium- to long-term orbital living. As the programme progressed, increase in confidence had led to a simplification of the missions. The use of Shenzhou orbital module for rendezvous docking was scrapped. Instead, two Space Laboratory modules were built, with the first (Tiangong 1) used as a target vehicle for perfecting rendezvous docking, and the second (Tiangong 2) used to demonstrate in-orbit refuelling and medium-term orbital living.

A third, larger (20 tonne-mass) Space Laboratory module (Tiangong 3) with two docking ports, similar to the Soviet Salyut 6/7 in size and design, was also scrapped. Instead, the Chinese manned spaceflight programme decided to launch Tianhe 1, an experimental core module identical in size and design to the core module of the future multi-module space station. The Tianhe 1 mission is currently scheduled for 2018, launched atop a CZ-5B orbital launcher from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre in Hainan.

The Tianhe 1 experimental core module will be used to demonstrate medium- to long-term orbital living, possibly 3—6 months, which resembles the duration of the expedition missions on the future space station. If the Tianhe 1 mission is a success, two laboratory modules named Wentian and Mengtian will be launched around 2022 to be assembled with the core module to form a multi-module, permanently-occupied space station, named Tiangong. A second core module may be launched at a later stage to expand the space station into a six-module design.

Space Station Design

The proposed Chinese Space Station (CSS), named Tiangong, will be a third-generation modular design, similar to the Russian Mir and the International Space Station. The station in its basic configuration consists of a core module and two laboratory modules permanently docked together in a T-shape structure, providing a total habitable volume of 90 cubic metres for its crew. Each of the three modules weighs around 20 tonnes. Together with two Shenzhou crew vehicles and a cargo resupply ship, the station will have a total mass of nearly 100 tonnes.

The station is designed to support a three-man crew to live and work onboard continuously, though it can also operate with two astronauts only or completely autonomously. During its construction phase, the station will only be visited intermittently and remain unoccupied between visits. Once fully operational, the station will be continuously occupied, with each expedition mission lasting six months. During crew rotation and handover, the station may house up to six astronauts. In order to remain operational, the station will also require at least one cargo resupply mission every 12 months.

The three modules will be launched atop the CZ-5B launcher from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre between 2018 and 2022. The station will station operates in a 42—43° inclined orbit 340—450 km above Earth, with a designed orbital life of 10 years. In addition, a space telescope module will be flying in formation with the space station, and docked with the space station periodically to be serviced.

In addition to serving as an orbital scientific research infrastructure, Chinese space professionals also viewed the station as a platform to perfect and demonstrate long-duration life support, environment control, and resources recycle technologies required for future crewed missions to deep space, including a temporarily-manned lunar base and manned missions to Mars.

  • The Tianhe (TH, 天合) core module is the backbone of the space station, designed to provide the main living quarters and control centre for the station crew. The module resembles the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station in appearance and arrangement. The module is about 19 m in length and 4.2 m in diameter. The space frame is constructed of 5A06 aluminium-alloy, with a gross mass of 22,000 kg. The entire module is divided into three sections: a front docking hub, a pressurised living compartment in the middle, and an aft service compartment. The module has a total of five passive APAS-type docking ports—four located on the front docking hub and one on the rear end of the service compartment. Externally the module mounts a robotic arm, two pairs of solar panel wings, and docking radar/optical sensors.
  • The Wentian (WT, 问天) laboratory module is designed and built by CAST in Beijing. The module divided into three sections: a fully pressurised working compartment at front, an airlock compartment in the middle, and an unpressurised service compartment at rear. The module is attached to the starboard side of the core module’s docking hub through an active APAS-type docking port at its front end. A pair of solar panel wings is mounted on a large boom with its centre attached to the rear end of the module. The working compartment provides space for scientific and technological experiments, and is also used as a storage space for consumables and supplies used by the crew. The module is fitted with a secondary control system as a backup to the main control system in the core module. Application payload includes a suite of Earth-observation instruments.
  • The Mengtian (MT, 梦天) laboratory module is designed and built by SAST in Shanghai. The module is divided into three sections: a fully pressurised working compartment at front, an unpressurised application compartment in the middle, and an unpressurised service compartment at rear. It is attached to the port side of the core module’s docking hub through an active APAS-type docking port at its front end. A pair of solar panel wings is mounted on a large boom with its centre attached to the rear end of the module.
  • The Xuntian (XT, 巡天) space telescope module will be flying in formation with the Chinese space station, and docked with the space station periodically to be serviced and refuelled. The telescope carried by the Xuntian module will be 2 m in diameter, providing an angular resolution comparable to that of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope, but with a field of view 300 times of the latter.
  • Power to the station is provided by an array of solar cells consisting of two pairs of solar panel wings attached to the core module providing power supply during the initial flight demonstration and construction phase, and four large solar panels wings on the two laboratory modules as the main power source. The two solar panel wings on the core module are one-axis steerable, whereas the solar panel wings on the laboratory modules are two-axis steerable to track the Sun. The power management and distribution subsystem operates at a primary bus voltage of 100 volts.
  • There are two sets of flight control system providing most station control functions: a primary system on the core module and a backup system on the Xuntian module. The Tiangong space station will adopt an electrically-powered propulsion system using ion thrusters to reduce the amount of propellants being consumed for station keeping. All three modules of the space station are equipped with digital wireless communications. Information sharing and management is through three networks for spacecraft systems, communications, and payloads. Communication with the ground is via unified S-band (USB) links either directly to ground stations or through Tianlian data relay satellites.
  • The space station is equipped with two robotic arms. The primary arm on the core module is developed by CAST and has a load capacity of 25 tonnes. The secondary arm on the Wentian laboratory module is developed by the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT). The two robotic arms can be used either separately or jointly for assembling laboratory modules, installing and repairing external equipment and instruments, moving cargo and EVA astronaut around the station, and monitoring the station’s external conditions.
  • The space station will carry a total of 26 standard payload racks inside its pressurised sections, and a total of 67 external payload racks on the two laboratory modules (30 on Xuntian and 37 on Mengtian). In addition, the Xuntian module has an external extension port and an external payload mount. The Tianhe core module also has two large external payload mounts.

As with the previous manned missions, the implementation of the space station plan was carried out by China Manned Space Agency (CMSA). The number of main elements of the programme has doubled from 7 to 14, including:

  • Astronaut
  • Space applications
  • Crew vehicle
  • Cargo vehicle
  • Space laboratory (Tiangong 1/2)
  • Space station
  • Telescope module
  • CZ-2F launch vehicle
  • CZ-5B launch vehicle
  • CZ-7 launch vehicle
  • Jiuquan launch site
  • Hainan launch site
  • Telemetry, tracking and command
  • Recovery site

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Associated Topics

CZ-5B — China’s next-generation heavy-lift space launch system, comparable in performance to the European Ariane 5 and the U.S. Delta IV Heavy. The launch vehicle is designed to loft space station modules, deep space probes, and heavy communications satellites. The CZ-5B variant, with a single-stage core vehicle and four strap-on boosters, will be used to loft heavy space station modules into orbit.


Tianhe — Core module and backbone of the Chinese manned space station, designed to provide the main living quarters and also serving as the primary control element for the entire space station. An experimental module is scheduled for launch in 2018 atop a CZ-5B launcher.

 


Wentian — Laboratory module for the Tiangong Space Station, designed and built by CAST in Beijing. The module divided into three sections: a fully pressurised working compartment at front, an airlock compartment in the middle, and an unpressurised service compartment at rear. The module is attached to the starboard side of the core module’s docking hub through an active APAS-type docking port at its front end. A pair of solar panel wings is mounted on a large boom with its centre attached to the rear end of the module. The habitable compartment provides space for scientific and technological experiments, and is also used as a storage space for consumables and supplies used by the crew. The module is fitted with a secondary station control system as a backup to the main control system in the core module. The primary application payload is a suite of Earth-observation instruments.


Mengtian — Laboratory module for the Tiangong Space Station, designed and built by SAST in Shanghai. The module is also divided into three sections: a fully pressurised working compartment at front, an unpressurised application compartment in the middle, and an unpressurised service compartment at rear. It is attached to the port side of the core module’s docking hub through an active APAS-type docking port at its front end. A pair of solar panel wings is mounted on a large boom with its centre attached to the rear end of the module.


Xuntian — Space telescope module that will be flying in formation with the Chinese space station, and can also be docked with the station periodically to be maintained and refuelled. The telescope will be 2 m in diameter, providing an angular resolution comparable to that of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope, but with a field of view 300 times of the latter.


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Mission History

Date          Mission       Type                 Crew             Launch Site    Launch Vehicle
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Space Station early concept

An early concept of the three-module space station


tiangong-space-station-1

The later design of the three-module space station, with redesigned larger solar panel wings


tiangong-space-station-4

Chinese Space Station in basic configuration


tiangong-space-station-5

Chinese Space Station in expanded configuration


CSS mockup 1

Tianhe 1 module with robotic arm


CSS mockup 3

Tianhe 1 module with robotic arm


CSS mockup 5

Wentian laboratory module with EVA airlock


CSS mockup 4

Mengtian laboratory module


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Chronology

1986 March – State High-Tech R&D Initiative (863 Programme). Four leading figures in the Chinese space community — Wang Daheng, Wang Ganchang, Yang Jiaxi, and Cheng Fangyun – wrote a proposal titled “Recommendations Concerning Research to Keep Pace with Foreign Strategic High Technology Development”, calling for state funding to accelerate China’s research and development in certain key areas of science and technology to rival the U.S. Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI, or ‘Star Wars’) programme. The proposal along with a handwritten letter signed by the four authors was passed directly to senior Party and government leaders including Deng Xiaoping, who gave his personal endorsement to the proposal.


1986 October – Human Spaceflight included in the 863 Programme. The Space Technology Section of the 863 Programme was set the objective of carrying out preliminary research and conceptual study on human spaceflight.


1987 February – 863 Space Expert Committee established.  The committee was taksed to lead the research on human spaceflight, with an allocated budget of RMB 3.8 billion. Two expert groups were set up under the committee: Heavy Launcher Rocket and Space-Earth Ferry Transportation System Expert Group (Project 863-204) and Space Station Expert Group (Project 863-205).


1992 September 21 – Manned Spaceflight Programme (Project 921) approved. The manned spaceflight programme, including the three-step to build a permanently-manned Earth-orbiting space station, was officially approved by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s Politburo Standing Committee.


1993 – Second 863 Space Expert Committee formed. The new space expert committee was tasked with the draft of the space station plan. Under the committee were three expert groups: Comprehensive, Space Station, and Heavy Launch Vehicle. The committee produced three proposals for developing the space station:

  • Proposal A: to first launch 20-tonne-class space laboratory modules using the proposed heavy-lift launch vehicle, followed by the launch of the 20-tonne-class space station;
  • Proposal B: to first launch 10 to 20-tonne-class space laboratory modules using a newly developed launch vehicle, followed by the launch of the 20-tonne-class space station using the proposed heavy-lift launch vehicle;
  • Proposal C: to first launch 8-tonne-class space laboratory modules using the CZ-2F launch vehicle, followed by the launch of the 20-tonne-class space station using the proposed heavy-lift launch vehicle;

A financial evaluation of the three proposals conducted by the Management School of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) showed that Proposal A and C would have roughly same amount of cost, while Proposal B would have a slightly higher costs due to the requirement to develop a new launch vehicle with 10 to 20-tonne payload capacity. Proposal B would have the highest risk in development cost, while Proposal C would have the highest risk in development time. In addition, Proposal C would not allow the technologies for the future space station to be fully validated since the 8-tonne-class space laboratory module has much less capacity for crew occupation and space applications payloads compared with the 20-tonne-class space station.


1996 – Space station plan signed off. The plan for developing space laboratories and space station was signed off.


2005 February – Phase-II of Project 921 approved. The objective of this phase of the programme was to develop advanced space flight techniques including extra-vehicular activity (EVA) and orbital rendezvous docking in support of the future space station.


2005 October – Human spaceflight included in the national science and technology development plan. The State Council published the National Outline on Medium- and Long-Term Science and Technology Development (2006—2020), which put human space flight and lunar exploration as one of the China’s 16 key science and technology projects over the next fifteen years, effectively enshrining the space station programme into national strategy. Over the next three years, the PLA General Armaments Department (GAD) that oversees China’s manned space programme worked with the space industry and other research institutions to draw up a plan for the implementation of the space station construction.


2010 September – Space station programme approved. Chinese official writings described the objectives of the space station programme as “to build an operational manned space station in LEO around 2020, allowing the grasp of long-term inhabitation of space, acquiring the capability to conduct long-duration, man-tended scientific and technological experiments in orbit, and enabling comprehensive exploration and utilisation of space resources”.


2011 July – Tiangong 1 launch campaign began. The Tiangong 1 space laboratory, also known as the ‘Target Vehicle’ was delivered by air to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. The CZ-2F (T1) launch vehicle also arrived at the launch centre shortly after.


2011 August 26 – Shenzhou 8 launch campaign began. The Shenzhou 8 spacecraft vehicle was delivered to Jiuquan by air.


2011 September 1 – Tiangong 1 launch delayed.  A CZ-2C launch vehicle that lifted off from the Jiuquan launch centre on 18 August failed to place its payload, an engineering experiment satellite named Shijian 11-04, into its intended orbit due to a second-stage engine malfunction. A spoke person of the China Manned Space Programme confirmed that the launch schedule for Tiangong 1 “had been adjusted”. He emphasized that the preparation for China’s first rendezvous docking was still progressing smoothly. However, following the unsuccessful launch of the Shijian 11-04, the mission planners had decided to postpone the Tiangong 1 launch as a precaution to allow engineers time to investigate the reasons of the failure.


2011 September 29 — Tiangong 1. Following nearly a month delay, Tiangong 1 was launched atop the CZ-2F (T1) launch vehicle from Pad 921 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre at 21:16 CST. The space module was primarily intended as a target vehicle to perfect orbital rendezvous docking, in order to pave way for the construction of the future permanently-manned space station.


2011 November 1 – Shenzhou 8 mission. Shenzhou 8 was launched atop the CZ-2F (Y8) launcher rocket from Jiuquan at 05:58 CST. After five orbit elevation manoeuvres in 44 hours, the spacecraft vehicle reached a position about 52 km away from Tiangong 1. The first docking was scheduled to take place while the two vehicles flew over the Chinese territory, where ground-based tracking stations could provide intensive tracking and telemetry support. The time of the docking was in midnight local time in order to avoid the interruptions of sun flares to the spacecraft’s docking and tracking systems. The two vehicles established an initial contact at 01:28 CST on 2 November, and the hard mate was established at 01:36 CST, marking the success in China’s first ever orbital rendezvous docking. On 14 November, Shenzhou 8 undocked with Tiangong 1 and retreated to a position 140 m away under the ground control, and then performed another automated docking with Tiangong 1. The vehicle left Tiangong 1 and landed on 17 November.


2012 April-June – Shenzhou 9 launch campaign began. The Shenzhou 9 vehicle was delivered to Jiuquan for initial preparation. The CZ-2F (Y9) launch vehicle arrived at the launch centre in early May. The fuelling the Shenzhou 9 vehicle was completed on 29 May. The launch vehicle and spacecraft stack was rolled out to the launch pad on 9 June.


2012 June 16 – Shenzhou 9 mission. The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft vehicle carrying Jin Haipeng (mission commander), Liu Wang (flight engineer and pilot), and China’s first female astronaut Liu Yang was launched atop the CZ-2F (Y9) launch vehicle from Pad 921 at the Jiuquan launch centre at 18:37 CST. In the first 40 hours of the flight, Shenzhou 9 made five orbit elevation manoeuvres to match the orbit of Tiangong 1. It reached a position about 52 km away from Tiangong 1 in the mid-day of 18 June. The two vehicles made the first contact at 14:07 CST on 18 June. Three hours after the docking, the three astronauts entered Tiangong 1 for the first time. On 24 June, Shenzhou 9 undockced with Tiangong 1 to perform a manual docking. The vehicle undocked with Tiangong 1 at 11:08 CST and retreated in the automated mode to a hold point 400 m away, and then closed in to Tiangong 1 again under auto pilot. When the vehicle paused at the 140 m hold point, astronaut Liu Wang switched on manual flight control and took over the control of the spacecraft. Initial contact and capture occurred at about 12:48 CST. On 28 June, Shenzhou 9 carrying the crew undocked with Tiangong 1 at 09:22 CST. The vehicle first retreated to a hold point 140 m away from Tiangong 1 under the manual control of astronaut Liu Wang, and then switched to automated guidance mode and continued retreating to a 5 km hold point. It then repeated the automated rendezvous procedure and closed in to Tiangong 1 again until the 140 m hold point, before eventually departing for re-entry. The re-entry sequence was initiated at 09:17 CST on 29 June. The re-entry capsule carrying the crew touched down in the at 10:03 CST. Strong wind caused the capsule to land 16 km off its targeted landing spot, but the search and rescue helicopters quickly reached the landing spot.


2013 March-June – Shenzhou 10 launch campaign began. The Shenzhou 10 spacecraft vehicle completed its initial testing in the Beijing Space City and was airlifted to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. The CZ-2F (Y10) launch vehicle arrived at the launch centre by railway on 2 May. The fuelling of the spacecraft’s service and re-entry modules was completed on 23 May. The crew was flown to the launch centre on 3 June. The rollout of the CZ-2F / Shenzhou 10 stack occurred at 09:00 CST on 3 June.


2013 June 11 – Shenzhou 10 mission. The Shenzhou 10 vehicle carrying Nie Haisheng (mission commander and pilot), Zhang Xiaoguang (flight engineer), and female astronaut Wang Yaping (mission specialist) lifted off atop the CZ-2F (Y10) launch vehicle from Pad 921 at the Jiuquan launch centre at 17:38 CST. After several orbit elevation manoeuvres, Shenzhou 10 entered the docking orbit. At 10:48 CST on 13 June, the spacecraft initiated its rendezvous docking sequence. Commander Nie Haisheng and Flight Engineer Zhang Xiaoguang were on standby to take over the control should the automated docking fail. The two spacecraft vehicles made first contact at 13:11 CST. On 20 June, Astronaut Wang Yaping gave a lesson to Chinese school students on live television from orbit, the first of its kind in China. More than 60 million students across the country were expected to watch the lecture. The 45-minute lecture covered a range of subjects including Newton’s second law of motion, as well as a brief Q&A session. On 23 June, Shenzhou 10 undocked with Tiangong 1 to perform a manual docking. Undocking occurred at 08:26 CST under the manual control of Nie Haisheng. The spacecraft vehicle retreated to a hold position, where it’s status was examined by the ground control, before closed in to Tiangong 1 again under manual control. The two spacecraft vehicles made initial contact at 10:00 CST. On 25 June, the crew exited from Tiangong 1 and sealed the hatch in the docking port at 05:07 CST. Shenzhou 10 then undocked with Tiangong 1 for the last time. Shortly after the undocking, Shenzhou10 completed a 180° manoeuvre around Tiangong 1, from a plus V-bar position to a minus V-bar position. The whole manoeuvre took about 2 hours to complete. The re-entry capsule of Shenzhou 10 carrying the three crew members safely landed in Inner Mongolia at 08:07 CST on 26 June.


2016 March 21 – Loss of Tiangong 1 telemetry. Tiangong 1 was designed for an operational life span of two year. After the departure of the last crew in June 2013, the space module was put into a sleep mode to continue flying in orbit, in order to allow the ground control to collect data on the longevity of key components before the module is commanded to gradually re-enter the atmosphere. Tiangong 1 remained flying normally in orbit for another 2 years and 9 months after the final visit (or 1,630 days since launch). On 21 March 2016, the China Manned Space Agency announced that all telemetry on the space module had failed, leaving no ability to safely control its descent. The space module is expected to re-enter the atmosphere in the coming months.


2016 June 25 – CZ-7 test launch. The new-generation medium-load launch vehicle CZ-7 (Y1) made its debut flight from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre, carrying a sub-scale re-entry module of the next-generation multi-purpose crew vehicle.


2016 July 9 – Tiangong 2 launch campaign began. The Tiangong 2 space laboratory module arrived at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre after a two-day train journey from its production facility in Beijing.


2016 August 13 – Shenzhou 11 launch campaign began. The Shenzhou 11 spacecraft vehicle was airlifted to the Dingxin Airbase near the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre.


2016 September 15 – Tiangong 2 launch. The CZ-2F (T2) launch vehicle, which lifted off from Jiuquan at 22:04 CST on 15 September, inserted the Tiangong 2 space laboratory module into an initial 350 x 200 km parking orbit with an inclination of 42°.


2016 October 17 – Shenzhou 11 mission. The CZ-2F (Y11) launch vehicle carrying the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft with its crew lifted off from Pad 921 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre at 07:30:31 CST (23:30:31 UTC on 16 October). Commander Jing Haipeng occupied the central seat in the spacecraft’s re-entry module, and flight engineer Chen Dong was seated on his right.


2016 Q4 – CZ-5 test launch. The new-generation heavy-load launch vehicle CZ-5 is due to make its debut flight from the Hainan launch centre.


2017 Q2 – Tianzhou 1 mission. The first unmanned cargo vehicle Tianzhou 1 will be launched by a CZ-7 launch vehicle from the Hainan launch centre. The vehicle will dock with Tiangong 2 to test the resupply of life supplies (‘dry goods’) and propellants (‘wet goods’) with the space laboratory.


2017 – CZ-5B test launch. The LEO mission variant CZ-5B heavy-lift launch vehicle will make its maiden flight from Hainan.


2018 – Tianhe 1 launch. The core module of the future space station, named Tianhe 1, will be launched atop a CZ-5B launch vehicle from the Hainan launch centre.


2022 – Tiangong space station completes. The construction of the three-module orbital space station will complete and the station will become fully operational.


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