China’s Tiangong Facility Being Built By Military

Craig Covault has more on China’s planned space station project over at Spaceflight Now:

China is aggressively accelerating the pace of its manned space program by developing a 17,000 lb. man-tended military space laboratory planned for launch by late 2010. The mission will coincide with a halt in U.S. manned flight with phase-out of the shuttle.

The project is being led by the General Armaments Department of the People’s Liberation Army, and gives the Chinese two separate station development programs.

While U.S. military astronauts were to be launched in a Gemini spacecraft atop their MOLs, in China’s case, the module will operate autonomously and be visited periodically by Chinese astronauts, to perhaps retrieve reconnaissance imagery or other sensor data. At least one unmanned Shenzhou was equipped with a military space intelligence eavesdropping antenna array.

A larger 20-25 ton “Mir class” station that will follow by about 2020 launched on the new oxygen/hydrogen powered Long March 5 boosters.

This is fascinating stuff. It will probably put some heat on NASA and the Obama Administration to close the looming five-year gap between the end of space shuttle operations next year and the first flight of the new Orion vehicle.

We could end up seeing a repeat of the 1970’s, when there was a nearly six-year gap between the last Apollo flight and the beginning of space station operations. The Soviets flew rings around the Americans with Salyut stations not much more sophisticated than what the Chinese are planning.

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