China is doubling the size of its space station and promoting an alternative to the NASA-led International Space Station

File photo: A woman takes photos of a screen displaying Spring Festival greetings to Chinese astronauts Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu from the Chinese space station, during a Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner at the Shangri-La Shougang Park Hotel in Beijing, China January 21, 2023. Photograph: Reuters /Florence Lu/ Image file Obtaining licensing rights

BEIJING, Oct 5 (Reuters) – China plans to expand its space station to six modules from three in the coming years, offering astronauts from other countries an alternative platform for near-Earth missions as the NASA-led International Space Station approaches Earth. End of its lifespan.

The operational life of China’s space station will be more than 15 years, the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), a unit of China’s main space contractor, said at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Wednesday.

This will be more than the previously announced ten years.

China’s self-built space station, also known as Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace in Chinese, has been fully operational since late 2022, hosting a maximum of three astronauts at an orbital altitude of up to 450 kilometers (280 miles).

At 180 metric tons after expanding to six modules, Tiangong’s mass is still only 40% of the mass of the International Space Station, which can accommodate a crew of seven astronauts. But the International Space Station, which has been in orbit for more than two decades, is expected to be decommissioned after 2030, around the same time China has said it expects to become a “major space power.”

Chinese state media said last year, when the Tiangong station became fully operational, that China would not “relax” as the International Space Station approached retirement, adding that “several countries” had requested to send astronauts to the Chinese station.

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But in a blow to China’s space diplomacy ambitions, the European Space Agency (ESA) this year said it did not have the financial or “political” green light to participate in Tiangong, delaying a years-long plan for visiting European astronauts. .

“Abandoning cooperation with China in the field of manned space is obvious NearsightednessChina’s nationalist newspaper Global Times wrote at the time that the US-led confrontation between the two camps had led to a new space race.

Tiangong has become a symbol of China’s growing influence and confidence in its space endeavors, and a competitor to the United States in this field after its isolation from the International Space Station. US law prohibits it from any direct or indirect cooperation with NASA.

Russia, a participant in the International Space Station, has similar space diplomacy plans, suggesting that Moscow’s BRICS partners – Brazil, India, China and South Africa – could build a module for its space station.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos said last year that it plans to build a space station with six modules that can accommodate up to four astronauts.

Ryan Wu reports. Edited by Gerry Doyle

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