A “Long March 5B” heavy-lift rocket will carry a “trial version” of China’s new spaceship, which is designed to carry crews of up to six people, state media source Xinhua said. Previous Chinese spaceships carried up to three taikonauts (“taikonauts” is the term used to describe Chinese astronauts).
The Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space stations were the precursors of the new project.
China plans to finish the space station by 2022, after more than ten missions for construction and in-orbit assembly. The station will be shaped like a T, with a core module, called Tianhe, at the center and lab capsules on either side of it.
All told, the station will offer up to 5,650 cubic feet (160 cubic meters) of living space across the three modules. That’s a little more than one-third of the space on the International Space Station, which has 13,696 cubic feet (388 cubic meters) of room, not including temporary expansions from visiting spaceships.
Unlike previous Chinese space stations, which required water sent to orbit from Earth, water on the new space station will be recovered from water vapor the astronauts exhale and from urine that is recycled and purified, Xinhua said. This space station will also carry machinery that can produce supplemental oxygen, Xinhua added.
The Chinese space complex will also have room for science experiments in fields ranging from astronomy to basic physics to life science, using more than a dozen experiment racks. China also plans to launch an optical telescope on a capsule flying “in the same orbit,” Xinhua said.
The new station does not yet have an officially announced name.