Chinese space lab: The authorities in Beijing this week disclosed further details of a plans to launch the Tiangong-2 space lab in the third quarter of the year. Once in orbit, two astronauts will be carried up to the new lab by the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft and will then stay there for 30 days, doubling the previous Chinese record for the longest manned space mission.
Remaining in space for a longer period of time posed several challenges, said Nie Haisheng, China’s most senior astronaut. “We firstly have to ensure the health and survival of our astronauts in orbit over the long-term,” Nie said. “Secondly, we have to improve our monitoring and controls in our spacecraft. As we continue to build the space station, there will be a lot of equipment to move up there. This means they will have to spend more time in orbit inside the space station, as they will have to spend a lot of time setting up and maintaining the equipment.”
Nie, who was in command of the Shenzhou-10 mission that completed the manned docking to the Tiangong-1 space lab in 2013, said that the Chinese astronaut corps is also training its astronauts to conduct more spacewalks. “During the Shenzhou-7 mission, we conducted a spacewalk and accumulated some experience,” Nie said. “But in the future, our astronauts are going to have to complete a lot of tasks during the spacewalks, as they will have to deal with issues such as equipment transfers, installation, repairs, maintenance and disassembling different components. We also have plans to carry out some scientific experiments outside the space capsule.”
Future plans include the launch of the Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft, which is due to dock with Tiangong-2 in the first half of next year.