It was officially announced that new Chinese space station Tiangong-2 will be launched on 2016.
CNSA confirmed for Xinhuanet.com that on first half of 2016, they are planning launch of second Tiangong orbit experimental module. Previously scheduled on 2015, launch was postponed to 2016 on September 2014 and now it is officially announced. Tiangong-1 still remains on orbit in spite of fact, that it should be deorbited on 2013. Tiangong-2 will be launched on atop of Long March 2F/G rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
Tiangong-2 will replace Tiangong-1 experimental module on orbit. Both space stations were designed as technology demonstrators which will provide necessary platform for experiments with instruments, technologies and devices necessary in developing future Chinese modular space station with possibility of constant habitation. Chinese space station program was started in 1999 as Project 921-2. It was developing under three assumptions announced on 2001 – first objective was performing crewed space flight, next step was orbital laboratory for long term habitation and third was developing large space station with crew living and working constantly. If first step was done on 2003 when CNSA performed manned space flight of Shenzhou 5. CNSA decided to launch two Shenzhou spacecrafts (Shenzhou 8 and Shenzhou 9) and perform rendez vous and docking to achieve small orbital laboratory, but in 2007 plans were changed when first information on Tiangong-1 space laboratory were given to public. On 29 September 2011 Tiangong-1 was launched on atop of Long March 2F from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It was close with its design to model showed four years later – its weight was 8506 kg, with length at 10.4 m and diameter at 3.35 m – it offered 15 cubic meters of pressurized space for work and living for three crew members. Tiangong-1 was based on two sections, where first was designed as service part with solar arrays and various onboard devices and second was crew compartment. Module was put into orbit 363 km x 381 km with inclination 42.77°. It was equipped in passive APAS-89/95 docking connectors designed by Russian RKK Energia for joining American and Russian modules of ISS and giving opportunity for Space Shuttle docking. Main objective of this mission was successful rendez vous and docking with manned spacecraft. First crew docked (docking was performed automatically) on board of Shenzhou 9 spacecraft on 18 June 2012 for six days. On 24 June 2012 crew performed manual separation from Tiangong-1 and returned to Earth. Second mission took place one year later on 15 June 2013. Shenzhou 10 performed successful docking and it supposed to be last mission before planned for second half of 2013 deorbitation of Tiangong-1. During mission lasting for 11 days crew members performed various science experiments and service maintenance of module. Crew returned to Earth on 26 June 2013.
Tiangong-2, according to schedule of CNSA, should be large space station, but it seems that is basically enlarged version of Tiangong-1. It is long for 14.4 m with diameter at 4.2 m and weight of 20000 kg. Module will provide life support for twenty days for three crew members. First novelty is planned utilization of resupply spacecraft for refueling Tiangong-2 before first manned mission and further resupplying. For this purpose will serve new spacecraft with designed based on Tiangong-1 called Tianzhou. It will be enlarged version of Tiangong 1 – it will weigh 13000 kg with payload capacity of 6000 kg. It will be manufactured in three versions – fully pressurized, partially pressurized and unpressurized probably for refueling mission. Its concept is based on Russian Progress spacecraft – after reaching station it will be unloaded by crew or propellant will be transferred to station, next it will be loaded with unnecessary equipment and trash and deorbit to be burned in atmosphere. Tianzhou will be first spacecraft which will perform rendez vous and docking with Tiangong-2. After that, first crew members will dock to Tiangong-2 on Shenzhou 11 spacecraft launched on atop of Long March 2F. Next another Tianzhou will be launched with supplies and scientific payload for crew members. It is not officially confirmed if Tiangong will be equipped in two docking ports or it will be necessary to separate with Shenzhou before unloading Tiangong. If Chinese perform all launches according their schedule in second half of 2016 there will be two space stations around Earth.
At the moment CNSA states that fully operational large modular space station will be completed on 2020-2022. Tiangong-2 will remain operational until 2018, when new Tiangong-3 module will be launched. It will be larger then its predecessor – it is planned that it will be long for 18 m with diameter at 4.2 m and mass at 22000 kg. It will provide life support for 40 days and will be equipped in four docking ports. Main objective of Tiangong-3 will be improving and testing technology of regenerative life-support function similar to installed on ISS Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS). Further plans of launching modules of space station with weight of 60000 kg depends from successful tests of new heavy rocket – Long March 5 with 25 t payload capacity for LEO mission.