China Plans to Open Up Their Future Space Station to Scientists Around the World

Tuesday, 29 May 2018 - 7:06PM
Tuesday, 29 May 2018 - 7:06PM
China Plans to Open Up Their Future Space Station to Scientists Around the World
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China's been working on a sizable new space station for several years, and assuming they don't run into more space station troubles (Tiangong-1 is still fresh in many people's memories), it's set to be ready by 2022.

And the station, known simply as the China Space Station (CSS), is looking to play a central role in "space diplomacy" and hopefully good relations between countries while they're off-world. The Chinese government has just announced that any scientists in a country belonging to the United Nations can apply to have their experiments conducted onboard the space station.

Now keep in mind, of course, that this doesn't mean "any scientist who's approved get to travel to the space station". But just like how the International Space Station has a number of experiments running onboard at any given time, while their respective researchers monitor them from the Earth's surface, a number of international experiments may now have another avenue if they involve space or zero gravity environments.

It's a big change for the Chinese space program, which has previously been much more isolated - China has never sent an astronaut to the ISS, which is typically populated by Americans and Russians with occasional astronauts from Japan, Canada or mainland European countries. 

There are three ways a potential applicant will be able to use the CSS for science: they can send their existing experiments to the space station as a payload, they can make use of existing instruments onboard the space station, or they can send existing experiments outside the CSS as payloads. There's no word on what sort of experiments China is leaning toward, or more likely to approve.

In a statement addressed to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (which is a very cool name), the Chinese UN ambassador Shi Zhongjun said the following:

Opening quote
"The China Space Station belongs not only to China, but also to the world... Guided by the idea of a shared future, the CSS will become a common home in space for all humankind. It will be a home that is inclusive and open to cooperation with all countries, a home of peace and good will, and a home of cooperation for mutual benefit. Through the CSS, we would like to build up a model of sincere mutually beneficial cooperation among countries in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space."
Closing quote

With the future of the ISS currently up in the air, this would be a strategic time for the CSS to swoop in as the world's dominant space station. ISS funding is currently only set to go through 2024, so if the station truly does become grounded in the next decade (although hopefully it won't), this may be the only real avenue to conduct experiments in space.

Unless NASA's  lunar space station becomes a reality, but that'd be much tougher to send a payload to.
Science News