China plans to create its own international space station to take over from NASA's when it is shut down.
It is doubling the size of its space station to offer astronauts from other nations an alternative platform for near-Earth missions. Chinese space chiefs hope the base will take over from the Western-led International Space Station when it is decommissioned in 2031.
The operational lifetime of the Chinese space station will be more than 15 years, the China Academy of Space Technology said at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan. That is 10 years longer than previously announced.
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China's self-built space station known as Tiangong – which translated as Celestial Palace – has been fully operational since late last year (2022) hosting a maximum of three astronauts at an orbital altitude of up to 280 miles. Its current three modules will be increased to six making way for more astronauts.
Tiangong is still just 40% of the mass of the ISS which can hold a crew of seven astronauts. But the ISS, in orbit for more than two decades, is expected to be decommissioned about the same time China has said it expects to become "a major space power."
Chinese state media said last year as Tiangong became fully operational that the nation would be no "slouch" as the ISS headed toward retirement, adding that "several countries" had asked to send their astronauts to its station.
But the European Space Agency has said it does not have the budgetary or "political" green light to participate in Tiangong.
Russian space agency Roscosmos said last year it was planning to build a station comprising six modules that could accommodate up to four cosmonauts.
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