Sharply conflicting opinions about the future of the International Space Station (ISS) and America’s path forward in space were on view last week in a Senate hearing room turned boxing ring.
In one corner was NASA Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenamier, representing a Trump Administration that wants to end direct federal funding for ISS in 2025 in order to pursue an aggressive campaign of sending astronauts back to the moon. NASA would maintain a presence in Earth orbit, becoming one of multiple users aboard a privatized ISS or privately-owned stations.
The space shuttle Columbia glowed brightly as it streaked across the predawn skies of the western United States on Feb 1, 2003. Decelerating from an orbital speed of 28,165 km/hr (17,500 miles/hr) at an altitude of 70,165 m (230,200 ft), the shuttle and its seven crew members were enveloped in super heated plasma as they descended deeper into the thickening atmosphere on their return from a 16-day science mission.
Three observers on the ground who were filming the fiery reentry suddenly noticed something odd. There was a sudden flash on the orbiter, and then bright objects streaked behind the ship and burned up.
“Look at the chunks coming off that,” one shouted. “What the heck is that?”
YANTAI, China (ESA PR) — ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Matthias Maurer joined 16 Chinese astronauts earlier this month for nine days of sea survival training off China’s coastal city of Yantai. The ultimate goal is for ESA to establish a long term cooperation with China and ESA astronauts to fly on China’s space station.
A white paper outlining China’s space policy for the next five years calls for a sample return mission to the moon, a landing on the far side of Earth’s closest neighbor, and the launch of an orbiter and lander to Mars by 2020.
China will also begin constructing a permanent space station and research and development work on a heavy-lift launcher, reusable boosters and satellite servicing systems.
The nation also wants to expand international cooperation in areas that include remote sensing, space applications, lunar and planetary exploration, and human spaceflight.
China successfully launched two astronauts into space on Monday morning for a 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2 space station.
Veteran Chinese astronaut Jing Haipeng and rookie Chen Dong lifted off aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft from Jiunquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. The Long March 2F booster appeared to perform flawlessly in a launch shown live around the world.
Shenzhou-11 is now in orbit and has deployed its two solar arrays as planned. Chinese officials said the spacecraft is performing as planned. The astronauts will dock with the space station two days from now.
Haipeng, 50, previously flew aboard Shenzhou 7, which was a three-day mission conducted in 2008, and commanded Shenzhou-9 on a 13-day flight to the Tiangong-1 space station in 20012. This is the first flight for Dong, 37.
Tiangong-2 is similar to its predecessor in size and design. It is about half the size of the 20-meter long Salyut 1 space station flown by the Soviet Union in the early 1970’s.
China plans to launch the core of a multi-module space station around 2018. Construction of the facility is expected to be complete four years later.
This mission is the sixth Shenzhou flight with a crew aboard for the three-seat spacecraft, which resembles the Russian Soyuz transport in design. It is the first mission with a crew aboard since Shenzhou-10 in June 2013.
The Chinese successfully launched the Tiangong-2 space station into orbit from aboard a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
A two-man crew is scheduled to launch to the station in October aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.
Tiangong-2 is a precursor to a multi-module station that China will be assembling later this decade. Officials had previously said they would begin launching the new facility around 2018. However, media reports today say the first launch could occur next year.
China plans to launch the core of its permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018, with full assembling of the multi-module facility due to be complete about four years later, officials said last week.
China will end a three-year hiatus in human spaceflight late this year with the launch of the two-person Shenzhou-11 spacecraft to the new Tiangong-2 space station, Chinese officials say. The crew will carry out a 30-day mission aboard the space station before returning to Earth.
Tiangong-2, which is set for launch sometime during the third quarter, is larger and more capable than the Tiangong-1 space station launched in 2011. The first station was visited by two three-person crews on missions lasting 12 and 15 days. The second crew landed in June 2013.
“We have specifically modified the interior of the new space lab to make it more livable for mid-term stays for our astronauts,” said Wang Zhongyang, a spokesman for the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).
“Unlike Tiangong-1, Tiangong-2 will be our first genuine space lab,” he added.
Tiangong-2 is similar in design and size to the Soviet Salyut 6 and Salyut 7 space stations flown in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The new Chinese station has docking ports at both ends to allow for resupply missions.
China plans to send up its new Tianzhou-1 supply ship during the first half of 2017 to verify propellant transfer and other key technologies. The cargo vehicle will be launched by the new medium-lift Long March-7 rocket, which is scheduled to make its inaugural flight later this year.
Chinese officials are not discussing follow-on missions to Tiangong-2. However, some reports say that a second human mission and an additional cargo ship would be launched to the space station in 2018.
Officials also announced plans to launch the core of the permanent Tianhe-1 space station around 2018. The permanent facility will have multiple docking ports to allow for the docking of additional modules. Assembly of the space station is expected to be completed around 2022.
Video Caption: China will send its second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 into space in the third quarter of this year, which is expected to dock with a cargo ship scheduled to be launched in the first half of next year, sources from the manned space program said Sunday.
China’s ambitious space plans for 2016 include a crewed flight to a new space station and the maiden flights of the Long March 5 and Long March 7 boosters. The nation plans to set a new record for launches in a year with more than 20 flights.
China is eyeing a next-generation human space transportation system to carry taikonauts to future space stations and to conduct missions to the moon, Mars and asteroids, according to a report on a Chinese space blog.
A feasibility study proposes a conical spacecraft similar to the American Orion and Apollo capsules capable of carrying between two and six crew members. The capsule would be attached to service modules of different sizes similar to the ones used for Apollo missions.
The Tianzhou-1, which literally means “heavenly vessel”, will carry propellants, living necessities for astronauts, research facilities and repair equipment to China’s second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2, said Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China’s manned space program.
Cargo transportation system is a key technology China must master and make breakthroughs to build its own space station, said Zhou who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body….
According to Zhou, Tianzhou-1 will be blasted off on top of a next-generation Long March-7 rocket, possibly from a new launch site in the southern Hainan Province.
Research on the Long March-5 carrier rocket – to be used to lift the Tiangong-2 lab into space – Tiangong-2’s payload, and selection of astronauts for the mission are currently “progressing in an orderly manner,” Zhou said.
Tiangong-2 will be larger than its predecessor and will resemble the Salyut space station first flown by the Soviet Union in the 1970’s. It will have docking ports on both ends.
“With China’s current technologies of manned space flight and moon probe, we have the technology basis to realize the manned lunar mission,” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program.
Zhou…said that challenges and a lot of preparation precede the realization of the manned lunar mission.
For example, it requires the research and development of a bigger carrier rocket and the bigger and more sophisticated manned spacecraft, he added.
Roscosmos deputy head Sergey Savelyev said Russia has no current plans to build a successor to the International Space Station before 2025. He also characterized the possibility of the Chinese Shenzhou crewed spacecraft docking at ISS as highly improbable, the Russian news agency TASS reports.
“A possibility of creating a new Russian space station does exist in principle. Such project may be implemented in international cooperation, with China for example. But neither the current, nor the draft of a future federal space program have such provisions. Such project can be linked with the lifecycle of the International Space Station,” he said.