In April, China deployed the core of its space station, and three astronauts were launched in June. Even though the space station isn’t expected to be finished until late 2022, there already is a huge list of experiments from around the world waiting to be launched. According to Chinese scientists, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) has provisionally approved over 1,000 experiments, some of which have already been launched.
Before April, the only space laboratory in orbit was the International Space Station (ISS), and many research suggests Tiangong (or “heavenly palace”) is a great addition for Earth observation and astronomical, as well as studying how cosmic radiation and microgravity affect phenomena like bacterial growth and fluid mixing. On the other hand, others say that the crewed space stations are expensive and serve a political rather than a scientific purpose.
“Increasing scientific access to space is beneficial to science worldwide, regardless of who builds and runs platforms,” says Julie Robinson, NASA’s chief scientist in charge of the human exploration and operations in Washington, DC. “We need additional space stations,” says Agnieszka Pollo. Pollo works at the National Centre for Nuclear Research situated in Warsaw as an astrophysicist. She is part of a team deploying an experiment to explore y-ray bursts.
The International Space Station (ISS) was launched in 1998 to collaborate between space agencies from Japan, the US, Russia, Europe, and Canada. Since then, it has held over 3,000 experiments, but China is not allowed to use it due to US restrictions prohibiting NASA from using the money for collaboration with China.
Even though Chinese researchers will conduct most of the experiments planned for Tiangong, China has stated that the space station will be available for collaboration from all nations, including the United States. In 2019 June, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the CMSA, which encourages space collaboration, chose nine experiments to go up once the space station is finished, on top of the 1,000 that China has tentatively approved. These, according to Simonetta Di Pippo, who serves as the director of the UNOOSA organization in Vienna, involve 23 institutions from 17 countries.
Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 were China’s first two tiny space labs. Over 100 experiments were hosted on these satellites, which orbited Earth for several years but are no currently in orbit. According to Tricia Larose, University of Oslo’s medical researcher, who is directing a project scheduled for 2026, the space station provides brand new capabilities, and China is promoting trials never performed in space before. “Yes, construct your gear, make it completely new, do something never accomplished before, and then send it up to us.” Although Chinese researchers have directed most of the projects accepted so far, many of them have international colleagues, according to Zhang Shuang-Nan, who works as an astrophysicist at the CAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences) Institute of the High Energy Physics located in Beijing, who consults the CMSA.