A tour of China’s future Tiangong Space Station

A new outpost for astronauts will soon be finished in orbit: China’s new Tiangong space station, or Heavenly Palace
A new outpost for astronauts will soon be finished in orbit: China’s new Tiangong space station, or Heavenly Palace. Tiangong will be able to support three astronauts, or up to six people during crew rotations.

The unfinished station has already hosted three astronauts, who spent 90 days living aboard and continuing the construction process. The next crew is expected to launch in October, and Tiangong will be completed in several stages over the next year.

The Tianhe control centre was the first section to launch. A central docking hub will connect the module to other sections of the space station, or to visiting spacecraft. Tianhe also has a hatch for astronauts to enter and exit the station.

Other spacecraft will visit the station regularly to deliver food, supplies and crew members.

The piloted Shenzhou spacecraft carry astronauts and equipment to the space station. Each Shenzhou craft consists of an orbital module, a re-entry module and a service section. Earlier this summer, Shenzhou-12 carried astronauts Tang Hongbo, Nie Haisheng and Liu Boming to the partially constructed station.

The Tianzhou spacecraft are a series of automated ships that supply the space station with cargo and propellant. The Tianzhou-1 can carry 6 tons — the approximate weight of an adult elephant. Its interior is divided into a cargo compartment and a propulsion section.

Wentian and Mengtian are two experiment modules that have not yet launched. They will connect to the Tianhe core module. Astronauts will conduct research in biotechnology, microgravity and space materials science.

According to the China National Space Administration, assembly of the Tiangong Space Station is scheduled for completion around 2022. The finished station will be smaller than the current International Space Station, which typically hosts a crew of about six or seven astronauts.

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