China has unveiled a replica of its planned permanently crewed space station. The ambitious project was shown off at Airshow China, the country's main aerospace industry exhibition held in the southern coastal city of Zhuhai. Called Tiangong or "Heavenly Palace" the space station will consist of two additional modules for scientific experiments, the whole station will be partly powered by solar panels.
China plans to have three astronauts permanently on board the station the 60-tonne orbiting lab. The crew is expected to conduct biological and microgravity research in addition to space observation.
ISS days are numbered
The station is on track to be completed around 2022 and should have a lifespan of around 10 years. The International Space Station(ISS) which has been in operation since 1998 is expected to be retired in 2024.
The ISS is a collaborative project between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Once retired the Chinese lab will be the only operational lab in space.
However, China has already said that the lab is open to all countries to visit and conduct experiments in. The country announced in May that the lab would be open to "all countries" to conduct science experiments.
China will lead to space-based research
"There is no doubt that China will use its station in a similar way as the ISS partners are using their outpost: research, technology and as a stepping-stone for deep-space exploration," said Chen Lan, an analyst at Go Taikonauts.com, a website specialized in the Chinese space programme.
China has invited research institutes, universities, and public and private companies to propose projects for the space station. According to Chinese media, more than 40 plans from 27 countries and regions have already been received.
In preparation for the space stations launch and subsequent dominance, the European Space Agency has sent astronauts to China to receive training in order to work inside Tiangong. "I'm sure over time China will be successful developing partnerships," said Bill Ostrove, a space analyst with US-based Forecast International consultancy.
"Many countries, and increasingly private companies and universities, have space programmes, but cannot afford to build their own space station," he said. The Chinese government has made it clear it wants to be a world leader in space exploration.
The U.S must work with China to stay relevant
They have been pouring billions into its military-run space programme, and may also have plans to send a manned mission to the moon in the near future. However, if the US is taking advantage of the space lab, they may need to heal some wounds opened by both the ongoing trade war and the references president Trump made about China when he launched the new militarized space force. Space exploration, a field once dominated by power countries has spread to include private companies like Blue origin and Spacex.