BEIJING, China: China plans to complete construction of its orbiting space station by the end of 2022, with more rocket launches planned for this year.
These include two Shenzhou crewed missions, two Tianzhou cargo spacecraft and the station’s additional two modules, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing a recent announcement by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
Named Mengtian and Wentian, the science modules will join the Tianhe core module that is currently home to a three-person crew.
The U.S. expects about the same number of launches to take place in 2022, after the pace slowed in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
China’s military-run space program was barred from sending astronauts to the International Space Station, mainly because of U.S. objections.
Working largely on its own, China has pushed ahead with its Tiangong space station program, building and then abandoning two experimental stations before embarking on the latest design.
The current six-month mission, named Shenzhou-13 by the crew aboard Tianhe, is China’s longest manned mission since it first put a human in space in 2003, becoming only the third country to do so after Russia and the U.S.
The crew has conducted a pair of spacewalks – including the first by a Chinese female astronaut – and carried out tests alongside the station’s robotic service arm, which successfully undocked, then re-docked the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft for the first time.
China has also seen success with un-crewed missions, as well as its moon exploration program.
Additionally, China is reportedly developing a highly secretive space plane.