China to open space station for commercial activity

(ORDO NEWS) — China plans to open its space station to commercial missions and activities, according to a senior manned spaceflight program official.

“When our space station is completed and launched, we will actively encourage the private sector to participate in space in various ways,” Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned spaceflight program, told China Central Television on March 9.

“There are many possibilities. We hope there will be competitive, cost-effective commercial space players to participate in areas such as space systems and space program development. The outlook is good,” Zhou said.

Chinese startups last year began citing the Tiangong space station as a contracting opportunity. The move appears to be in response to a January 2021 call for proposals issued by the Chinese space flight agency CMSA asking for low-cost cargo-carrying solutions for the Chinese space station.

The announcement was the first sign that the national space station project would be open to commercial participation. The move can be seen as similar to NASA‘s earlier commercial cargo initiatives.

“Commercial involvement in space has been on everyone’s mind at home and abroad. This shows the growing importance of the space sector for science and economic development,” Zhou said.

China plans to complete construction of the Tiangong space station this year. In six launches, it is planned to add two science modules to the base Tianhe module in orbit, as well as send two cargo ships and two crewed missions – Shenzhou 14 and 15 – to the orbital outpost.

China’s human spaceflight needs are already changing to achieve scientific and other goals. CMSA, which operates under the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), selected seven pilots, seven space engineers and four payload specialists in the third round of astronaut selection at the end of 2020.

It is planned that the Tiangong station will operate in low earth orbit for at least 10 years. Astronauts from other countries are also expected to visit the three-module T-shaped outpost.

In recent years, NASA has been looking at ways to commercialize the use of the International Space Station. The agency also issued awards worth more than $400 million in December to three groups of companies to advance the development of commercial space stations as part of plans to move to the ISS.

The US and partners have recently begun considering extending the use of the ISS until 2030. Zhou also noted that China invites further international cooperation in the field of space station operation.

“I know that many scientists and engineers are carefully studying the possibility of conducting experiments in China’s space station. This is a great thing,” Zhou said.

“CMSA has said many times that we actively promote the openness of the Chinese space laboratory, it is open to both domestic and international scientists and engineers.”

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