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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#243 - Brittany Zimmerman - Tiangong

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

This week Matt talks to Brittany Zimmerman about innovation in Space and more. Harriet joins Matt to talk about Tiangong the Chinese space station.

Make full use of your time in the school to learn more knowledge. Try to keep good health by doing more physical exercises and have a clear target. If you keep striving for that, I believe you could finally realize your dream.

NIE HAISHENG (currently in space on Tiangong)


CEO and Chief of Innovation of Yummet inc a team for the Elon Musk XPrize Challenge for Carbon Capture! 20 Under 35 & 2020 SSPI Promise Award Winner. IP Generation for Space & Human Betterment.


Tiangong (Heavenly Palace)

  • Is a space station placed in low Earth orbit between 340 and 450 km (210 and 280 mi) above the surface.

  • The core module, the (shienWhoer) Tianhe ("Harmony of the Heavens"), launched on 29 April 2021

  • The (shiengon) Tiangong Space Station, once completed, will be roughly one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station

  • About the size of the decommissioned Russian Mir space station.

  • 122 dishes onboard included shredded pork

  • Spinning bike and treadmill

  • A Hubble type telescope will orbit alongside the station, occasionally docking. (shingShien) Xuntian ('Heavenly Cruiser' “Seeking the sky” the Chinese Space Station Telescope or CSST) is a will feature a 2 meter (6.6 foot) diameter primary mirror and is expected to have a field of view 300 times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope. This will allow the telescope to image up to 40 percent of the sky using its 2.5 gigapixel camera over ten years.

  • The Tiangong is expected to have a mass between 80 and 100 t (180,000 and 220,000 lb).

  • Operations will be controlled from the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center in China.

  • (shenjoe) Shenzhou 12 launched on 17 June 2021. The flight marks the seventh crewed Chinese spaceflight and the seventh crewed flight of the Shenzhou program. The spacecraft carried three members of the People's Liberation Army Astronaut Corps (PLAAC)

  • The flight marks the first of four crewed missions scheduled to dock with the Tiangong station by the end of construction in 2022

  • A Long March 2F with a Shenzhou spacecraft will always be on standby for an emergency rescue mission

  • The Chinese large modular space station is designed to be used for 10 years which could be extended to 15 years and will accommodate three astronauts.[

  • Three astronauts (or hángtiānyuán, literally heaven navigators, as they’re known in China) currently on board

The third phase of the Tiangong program, building on the experience gained from its precursors,


  • Launch 29 September 2011

  • Reentry - 2 April 2018

  • Days occupied 20 days, 18.5 hours (Hatch open to hatch closed)

  • a pressurised habitable volume of approximately 15 m3

  • Tiangong-1's experimental module was equipped with exercise gear and two sleep stations.

  • The interior walls of the spacecraft had a two-colour paint scheme – one colour representative of the ground, and the other representative of the sky. This was intended to help the astronauts maintain their orientation in zero gravity

  • The uncrewed Shenzhou 8 mission successfully docked with Tiangong-1 on 2 November 2011 UTC, marking China's first orbital docking

  • Highty disputed reports emerged alleging that the American Boeing X-37B robotic spaceplane was shadowing Tiangong-1 for surveillance purposes.

  • 49 years to the day after that of the first woman in space, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, Launch of Shenzhou 9 the fourth crewed spacecraft flight of China's Shenzhou program, first crewed spacecraft to dock with the Tiangong 1 space station, which took place on 18 June.

  • The Shenzhou 9 mission's crew included the first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang. as well as Liu Wang and Jing Haipeng

  • Shenzhou 10 docked successfully with Tiangong-1 on 13 June 2013.

  • The crewed Shenzhou 10 spacecraft was the final Shenzhou mission to rendezvous with Tiangong-1 before its deorbit, The mission's crew included China's second female astronaut, Wang Yaping.

  • Wang Yaping delivered a remote video lecture from orbit to students across China, demonstrating physics in microgravity with her colleagues

  • It had a 2 year life span, but would remain in orbit to test longevity of components.

  • At the request of China and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC), led by the European Space Agency (ESA), conducted an international campaign to monitor the re-entry of Tiangong-1. ESA's Space Debris Office in Darmstadt, Germany hosted and administered the campaign, with participation from other space agencies and organizations including the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), and Roscosmos of Russia

  • Tiangong-1 reentered the Earth's atmosphere at on 2 April 2018 over the South Pacific Ocean as predicted the station mostly burnt up upon re-entry] A fisherman from the nearby island of Maupiti was able to witness the event

  • This was about 3,600 km from Point Nemo, the default spacecraft cemetery, this was an unintended happy coincidence.

  • The design of Tianzhou, an automated cargo spacecraft intended to resupply the Chinese large modular space station, is based on Tiangong-1


  • Tiangong-2 was launched on 15 September 2016. It was deorbited as planned on 19 July 2019.

  • Intended as a testbed for key technologies

  • Shenzhou 11 successfully docked with Tiangong-2 on 19 October 2016, Commander Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong

  • During the 30 days the two astronauts were aboard Tiangong-2, they conducted a number of scientific and technical experiments

  • Shenzhou 11 separated from the orbiting Tiangong-2 space laboratory on 17 November 2016, reentry module landed successfully at the expected site in central Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at about 13:59 Beijing Time

  • On 22 April 2017, the cargo vessel Tianzhou-1 successfully docked with Tiangong-2 marking the first successful docking and refuelling with the orbiting space laboratory. several more dockings followed.

  • The station subsequently made a controlled re-entry on 19 July 2019 and burned up over the South Pacific Ocean

  • This final Space station is also called Tiangong but has no number, so it isn’t Tiangong 3.

The space station will be a third-generation modular space station.

  • First-generation space stations, such as early Salyut, Almaz, and Skylab, were single piece stations and not designed for resupply.

  • Second generation Salyut 6 and 7, and Tiangong 1 and 2 stations, are designed for mid-mission resupply.

  • Third generation stations, such as Mir and the International Space Station, are modular space stations, assembled on-orbit from pieces launched separately. Modularised design methods can greatly improve reliability, reduce costs, shorten the development cycle, and meet diversified task requirements

The Tianhe Core (launched on 29 April 2021)

  • provides life support and living quarters for three crew members, and provides guidance, navigation, and orientation control for the station.

  • The module also provides the station's power, propulsion, and life support systems.

  • The module consists of three sections:

    • living quarters,

    • service section

    • docking hub.

  • The living quarters will contain a kitchen and toilet, fire control equipment, atmospheric processing and control equipment, computers, scientific apparatus, communications equipment to send and receive communications via ground control in Beijing, and other equipment.

  • A Canadian-style SSRMS robotic arm has been transported into space folded under the Tianhe service section.

The first of two Laboratory Cabin Modules, 'Wentian' and 'Mengtian' respectively, will provide additional navigation avionics, propulsion and orientation control as backup functions for the Tianhe Core Cabin Module (CCM). Both will provide a pressurised environment for researchers to conduct science experiments in freefall or microgravity which could not be conducted on Earth for more than a few minutes. Experiments can also be placed on the outside of the modules for exposure to the space environment, cosmic rays, vacuum, and solar winds.

  • Additionally, the Wentian experiment will also carry a duplicate stowed second SSRMS robotic arm.

Electrical power

  • two steerable solar power arrays on each module, which use gallium arsenide photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity.

  • Energy is stored to power the station when it passes into the Earth's shadow.

  • The solar arrays are designed to last up to 15 years.


The Chinese docking mechanism is based on the Russian APAS-89/APAS-95 system. Despite NASA describing it as a "clone" to APAS, there have been contradictory claims on the compatibility of the Chinese system with both current and future docking mechanisms on the ISS, which are also based on APAS


  • Resupply spacecraft will replenish fuel for the station's propulsion engines for station keeping, to counter the effects of atmospheric drag.

  • Tiangong space station is fitted not only with conventional chemical propulsion

  • Interestingly Four Hall-effect thrusters are mounted on the exterior wall of Tianhe core module

  • Hall-effect thrusters are created with manned mission safety in mind with effort to prevent erosion and damage caused by the accelerated ion particles. A magnetic field and specially designed ceramic shield was created to repel damaging particles and maintain integrity of the thrusters. According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the ion drive used on Tiangong has burned continuously for 8,240 hours without a glitch during testing, indicating their suitability for Chinese space station’s designated 15-year lifespan.

International co-operation

An initial cooperative agreement with China National Space Administration and Italian Space Agency was signed in November 2011, covering collaboration areas of space transportation, telecommunications, Earth observation, etc Italian experiment High Energy cosmic-Radiation Detection (HERD) is scheduled to be onboard the Chinese station.

Tiangong also involves cooperation from France, Sweden, and Russia.

Tiangong is also expected to host experiments from Belgium, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Spain.

International Human spaceflight co-operation

On 22 February 2017, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) and Italian Space Agency (ASI) signed an agreement to cooperate on long-term human spaceflight activities. The agreement holds importance due to Italy's leading position in the field of human spaceflight with regard to the creation and exploitation of the International Space Station (Node 2, Node 3, Columbus, Cupola, Leonardo, Raffaello, Donatello, PMM, etc.) and it signifies Italy's increased anticipation in China's developing space station programme.

European Space Agency (ESA) started human spaceflight training with CMSEO in 2017, with the ultimate goal of sending ESA astronauts onto Chinese space station.

ESA astronauts Samantha Cristoforetti and Matthias Maurer joined 16 Chinese astronauts earlier this month for nine days of sea survival training off China’s coastal city of Yantai. The ultimate goal is for ESA to establish a long term cooperation with China and ESA astronauts to fly on China’s space station.

Regarding the participation of foreign astronauts, China Manned Space Agency repeatedly communicated their support for such a proposal. On the press conference of Shenzhou 12 mission, Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of China's manned space program explained that multiple countries have expressed their wish in the participation. He told journalists that foreign astronauts' future participation "will be guaranteed"

Ji Qiming, an assistant director at CMSEO told reporters that he believes "in the near future, after the completion of the Chinese space station, we will see Chinese and foreign astronauts fly and work together

Crew Vehicles

Initial crewed missions to Tiangong, including the first mission Shenzhou 12, use the Shenzhou spacecraft.

  • China is testing a next-generation crewed spacecraft to replace Shenzhou. It is designed to carry astronauts to the Chinese space station and offer the capability for the moon exploration.

  • China's next-generation crew carrier is reusable with a detachable heat shield built to handle higher-temperature returns through Earth's atmosphere.

  • The new capsule design is larger than the Shenzhou, according to Chinese officials. The spacecraft is capable of carrying astronauts to the Moon and can accommodate up to six to seven crew members at a time, three more astronauts than that of Shenzhou

  • The new crewed spacecraft has cargo section that allows astronauts bringing cargo back to Earth, whereas Tianzhou cargo resupply spacecraft is not designed to bring any cargo back to Earth

Tianzhou (Heavenly Vessel), a modified derivative of the Tiangong-1 spacecraft, payload of around 6,000 kg. Launch, rendezvous and docking shall be fully autonomous,

Shenzhou 12 launched on a Long March-2F rocket in Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's Gobi Desert on 17 June 2021,

  • following the launch and successful docking of Tianzhou 2,

  • Tianzhou 2 was able to remain docked, because the Tianhe core module has four docking ports, the two previous space stations only had one

  • Two spacewalks are planned to occur during the crew's approximately three-month stay in orbit.

  • Shenzhou 13 will be in standby for any possible rescue mission

  • Shenzhou-12 spacecraft is based heavily on Soyuz MS technology

    • Major General Nie Haisheng is a veteran of Shenzhou 6 and Shenzhou 10.

    • Major General Liu Boming was a crew member on Shenzhou 7,

    • Senior Colonel Tang Hongbo makes his first flight to space.

    • If Shenzhou 12 completes the planned 90-day mission, Nie will have spent about 114 days in space, a new record for a Chinese astronaut

  • Nuclear propellant is considered as a prime option for the manned Mars exploration missions, per the academy chief.

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