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by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jul 29, 2011
There's been another round of inaccurate reporting in the Chinese media about China's Tiangong space laboratory. Stories have claimed that Tiangong 1, due to be launched within two months, is the cornerstone of a Chinese space station.
This is not true.
Let's review the facts in brief. Tiangong 1 is a small space laboratory module with a single docking port.
It will be launched before the end of September 2011. Later this year, we expect the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft to dock with it. Shenzhou 8 will return to Earth after staying docked with the Tiangong 1 laboratory for less than a month.
Next year, we expect the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft to be launched to Tiangong 1. This time, there will be astronauts aboard.
Tiangong is testing many of the technologies that China will need to build a space station. China has announced plans to build a large space station in the years ahead. But Tiangong 1 is not going to be a part of that space station.
This misconception has been propagated into some blogs and other media sources outside of China. It's a pity that people didn't check the basic facts before they ran the story.
We saw a similar problem years ago, when some media reports claimed that the Shenzhou 7 space mission, launched in 2008, was a space station.
In fact, this was a manned space mission that produced China's first spacewalk. It was not a space station, nor did it dock with a space station.
Tiangong will give the Chinese experience with operating a spacecraft in orbit for a long time, as well as practice in docking. These are essential skills to master before China builds a space station.
The Tiangong program serves as a useful training course before China builds larger structures in space.
Yes, it's a step on the path to a large Chinese space station, but Tiangong 1 is not the space station, nor is it a part of it. But that's not to say that Tiangong won't have a role in the future Chinese space station.
In the future, modified versions of Tiangong are expected to serve as cargo spacecraft for China's space station. They will carry food and other gear for the three-person crew.
Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst. Email morrisjonesNOSPAMhotmail.com. Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.
Shenzhou and related project at Astronautix
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
China News from SinoDaily.com