Exclusive: China seeks to have foreign astronauts on its space station

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Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of China’s manned space program, said he looked forward to having foreign astronauts aboard the country’s space station once it is completed and can operate from stable and safe manner.

“We would actively encourage the participation of foreign astronauts in the work of the Chinese space station, which is an important part of international cooperation. You look forward to it, I also look forward to it,” Zhou told CGTN in a statement. exclusive interview on the sidelines. of the Two Sessions, a key event in its annual political calendar.

China’s space station, which is still in the verification stage of key technologies, will enter the in-orbit construction period from May, according to Zhou, who is also a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. , the main political advisory body.

“At the start of China’s space station, we must first ensure that all key technologies are verified, construction work is completed, and then the station is operated safely and smoothly,” he said.

A year of work in 2021 outfitted the space station with a core module and a robotic arm that helps with astronaut spacewalks and other unmanned assembly work.

Two crewed missions, Shenzhou-12 and Shenzhou-13, sent a total of six Chinese astronauts, or taikonauts, to the space station’s core module.

Six missions are planned this year to complete the construction of the space station, including the launches of two freighters, two manned spacecraft and two laboratory modules.

The space expert also revealed more details about the upcoming manned missions, the opening of the space station to international scientists, the scientific projects that will be carried out there and the prospect of private sector participation in the program.

The following excerpts from the interview with Zhou have been edited for clarity and brevity.

CGTN: You revealed some plans for the manned space program this year. They were described as “closely intertwined and allowing no trouble”. Can you elaborate on this subject?

Zhou: From May, we will enter a new stage with many missions. Our goal is to ensure that every launch, every rendezvous and docking, every moment of space station flight is safe, reliable, trouble-free, and every mission is a complete success.

During the stay in orbit of the crew of Shenzhou-14, the two laboratory modules will meet and dock with the main module. In addition, the robotic arm will reposition the laboratory modules on different berths.

When the laboratory modules are in place, the basic structure of the space station will be complete.

Then the Shenzhou-15 crew will fly to the space station, taking over the following work.

For the crew of Shenzhou-15, much of their work will turn to scientific experiments. As we have already said, the establishment of the space station is intended for scientific exploration and development of space resources.

Of course, their tasks will also include the management and maintenance of the space station, which is complex and difficult.

CGTN: How will the evolution of tasks affect the composition of the future space crew?

Zhou: When the space station is complete and operational, it will enter a new stage. The focus will then be on scientific research and the exploration of space resources. The space station will help us explore what is unknown in the universe.

Moreover, with the conditions provided by the space station and the unique environment in space, astronauts can conduct scientific experiments that will contribute to the economic development of human society. This is why we will have flight engineers and payload specialists among future space station crews. This will be a new phase for our manned space program.

CGTN: You said that when the Chinese space station is operational, there will be commercial or private sector participation. How will this work?

Zhou: Commercial or private sector participation in space programs has been significant at home and abroad. This shows how the space sector has become increasingly important in economic development.

We are actively promoting the trend. When our space station is completed and operational, we will actively encourage the private sector to engage in China’s manned space program in various ways.

There are many possibilities. We hope that there will be competitive and profitable commercial space players to participate in areas such as space application and space resource development. Prospects are good.

CGTN: As we move towards further scientific exploration, at this point, with the space station nearing completion and the space lab soon to start operating, what would the “opening” look like that you have you spoken?

Zhou: When the space station project was approved, we were clear from the start with the objective of making the space station a national space laboratory. It is therefore built for space science studies and exploration of space resources. This is our guideline. Thus, scientific installations, experimental equipment have been designed and set up for this purpose.

The facilities are high level and suitable for scientific research in different space-related fields. What we sent covers a number of areas, including space biological life science, materials science, microgravity fluid mechanics, combustion and fundamental physics. They are quite inclusive.

Thus, the space station will provide good experimental conditions for scientists.

I know that many scientists and engineers are looking closely at opportunities to do experiments in China’s space lab. This is a good thing. China Manned Space Engineering Bureau (CMSEO) has repeatedly stated that we are actively promoting the opening of China’s space laboratory to domestic and international scientists and engineers.

At the international level, a lot has been done. For example, we have nine international projects resulting from joint recruitment and selection between us and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. These projects will later go into space and be implemented there.

The CMSEO has signed many such memorandums of understanding with space agencies in other countries.

In fact, when designing space station facilities, Chinese scientists have already cooperated with international scientists.

We have published the experimental conditions that can be offered in the Chinese space station, including the specifics of its interface and environment. We are also writing standards for science experiments to be conducted on the space station. These standards would be national standards, and some would even be international standards.

All the work is to make international cooperation easier and smoother in the Chinese space station.

CGTN: Many projects hope to arrive at the Chinese space laboratory. What is the selection process?

Zhou: The space station has facilities and equipment for scientific experiments. And to use them, you must first comply with the interface requirements. In addition, it is a manned space station, so there are reliability and security requirements. You must meet medical standards. And, if you need astronauts to participate, you must meet ergonomic standards, ensuring that the operations are feasible. You must also comply with safety standards. These are the basic requirements.

Also, you have to aim for breakthroughs, right? It’s a rare opportunity to go into space, so we try to select projects that will really boost scientific and application advances.

CGTN: When will foreign astronauts be on board the Chinese space station?

Zhou: The participation of foreign astronauts in the program is an important element of international cooperation. I know a lot of people, a lot of our international friends are interested. And we think that’s very important.

But the space station is still at the stage of verifying key technology, and must then embark on construction in orbit. So, at the start of China’s space station, we must first ensure that all key technologies are verified, construction is completed, and then the station is operated safely and smoothly.

We will actively encourage the participation of foreign astronauts in the work in the Chinese space station, which is an important means of international cooperation. You look forward to it, and I look forward to it too.

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