China is building a new space station — the latest move in what some experts see as a brewing space race between China and the US.
China’s UN ambassador, Shi Zhongjun, recently invited the whole world to participate in the new space station.
“CSS belongs not only to China, but also to the world,” Shi told Xinhua, a state news agency. “All countries, regardless of their size and level of development, can participate in the cooperation on an equal footing.”
The new space station could become operational as soon as 2022, according to documents released by the UN’s Office for Outer Space Affairs.
The US has barred China’s space agency from using the International Space Station (ISS) or sharing any technology over security concerns.
But the ISS may come to an early end. President Donald Trump has said his administration is considering ending the US’s involvement in the space station by 2025, which is three years ahead of the previously accepted schedule.
That change in plans is part of the Trump administration’s larger push to privatize much of the US’s space operations.
NASA has already spent about $100 billion to keep the space station — which functions like an orbiting laboratory for astronauts and scientists — in top shape. The space agency pumps around $3-4 billion per year into the program, but those funds may dry up sooner than anticipated.
Meanwhile, many of the partners behind the ISS are already being courted to invest in China’s new space station, according to hotel billionaire Robert Bigelow, who has his own plan to build an inflatable space station more than twice as big as the ISS.
Europe’s space agency, the ESA, has agreed to a partnership in which European astronauts would be able to use China’s new station throughout the 2020s, reports Ars Technica.
China hopes its future space station can be operational for around a decade and support up to six astronauts for 180-day stays, during which they would conduct research.
Parts of the Chinese space station are already complete, including the core module, dubbed Tianhe-1 or “Harmony of the Heavens.” That module is expected to be sent into orbit as early as 2020, with the rest of the station expected to be completed by 2022.
China is planning to send a probe to study the dark side of the moon as well, in another move to expand its presence in space. The country is building a Mars simulation base deep in the Tibetan desert, too, where it hopes to train astronauts for a potential Mars mission.
China plans to launch a Mars probe in 2020.
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