China plans to increase the size of its space station in the coming years.
The station will offer astronauts from other countries a different choice for near-Earth missions. The International Space Station (ISS), led by NASA, is nearing the end of its service life.
The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) said the operational lifetime of the Chinese space station will be more than 15 years. The organization is China's main space contractor. Chinese officials made the estimate recently at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan.
That new operational lifetime would be more than the 10 years announced earlier.
China's space station, known as Tiangong, or the Celestial Palace in Chinese, has been operational since late 2022. It holds up to three astronauts and orbits 450 kilometers above Earth.
After an increase from three to six modules, Tiangong will be about 180 metric tons.
Tiangong is 40 percent of the mass of the ISS, which can hold a crew of seven astronauts. But the ISS, in orbit for more than 20 years, is expected to stop service after 2030.
China has said it expects to become "a major space power". Chinese state media said last year as Tiangong became fully operational that China would be no "slouch" as the ISS headed toward retirement. State media added that "several countries" had asked to send their astronauts to the Chinese station.
But, the European Space Agency (ESA) said this year it did not have the financial or "political" approval to take part in Tiangong.
The announcement suspended a plan that had been developed over years for a visit by European astronauts.
The Global Times, a newspaper linked to the Chinese Communist Party, wrote at the time: "Giving up cooperation with China in the manned space domain is clearly short-sighted, which reveals that the U.S.-led camp confrontation has led to a new space race."
Tiangong has become a symbol of China's growing influence and belief in its space missions. U.S. law bans China from any work, direct or indirect, with NASA.
Russia is highly involved in the ISS and has similar space diplomacy plans. Russia suggested that its partners in the BRICS group - Brazil, India, China and South Africa - could build a module for its new space station.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said last year that it was planning to build a space station. The goal is for the station to have six modules that could hold up to four astronauts.
I’m Mario Ritter Jr.
Ryan Woo reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
contractor – n. a person or business who is hired to perform work or to provide goods at a certain price or within a certain time
module – n. a part of a space vehicle that can work alone
no slouch – expression used to say that someone is good at a particular job, activity
domain – n. an area of knowledge or activity
confrontation –n. a conflict or dispute
symbol –n. a person or thing that represents an idea or goal and stands for it