China unveils space station as ISS days are numbered

China unveiled on Tuesday a replica of its first permanently crewed space station, which would replace the international community’s orbiting laboratory and symbolises the country’s major ambitions beyond the earth. The 17-metre core module was a star attraction at the biennial Airshow China in the southern coastal city of Zhuhai. Crowds gathered around the cylindrical module representing the living and working quarters of the Tiangong — or “Heavenly Palace” — which will also have two other modules for experiments and will be equipped with solar panels. Three astronauts will be permanently stationed in the 60-tonne orbiting lab, which will enable the crew to conduct biological and microgravity research. Assembly is expected to be completed around 2022 and the station would have a lifespan of around 10 years. The International Space Station — a collaboration between the U.S., Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan — has been in operation since 1998, but is due to be retired in 2024. China will then have the only space station in orbit, though it will be much smaller than the ISS which weighs 400 tonnes. The country had announced that the lab would be open to “all countries” to conduct science experiments.

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