By the end of the month, China will launch a test module of the space station it hopes to deploy by 2020. The unmanned module, called Tiangong-1 or “Heavenly Palace”, will test autonomous docking procedures and other space operations. “The Chinese Long March 2F rocket set to launch Tiangong-1 has already been rolled out to its launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province, according to state-run news service Xinhua.” China is only the third country to launch a person into orbit.
What’s the Big Idea?
The rise of China is being played out in outer space as well as on the Earth. Many saw the decommissioning of America’s space shuttles as symbolic of its declining influence in world affairs. Until the private American space industry is up and running, N.A.S.A. will rely on Russian rockets to shuttle its astronauts to space and back. China plans to launch its 60-ton space station into orbit by 2020, the same year the International Space Station (I.S.S.) is scheduled to be decommissioned, though there remains the possibility of extending the life of the I.S.S. until 2028.