File Photo: Xinhua

China is scheduled to build and operate a space station in 2022, which will accommodate three astronauts, and space would be reserved for enlargement.

Zhou Jianping, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the chief designer of China’s manned space program, said at the Forth China Summit Forum on Human Factors Engineering that the station, which will orbit 340 to 450 kilometers above Earth’s surface, could be enlarged to 180 tons if necessary and will accommodate three to six astronauts, Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday.

The station will last at least 10 years and could be extended through in-orbit maintenance.

A total of 16 experiment racks will be installed to support hundreds of space research projects, the report said.

“The main goal of the station construction is to realize China a country capable of independently mastering the long-term manned flight technology, carrying out long-term manned experiments in near-earth space, and comprehensively developing and utilizing space resources.” Zhou said in the report.  

Astronaut selections are underway for the space station missions. The station will also welcome foreign astronauts to work together with Chinese astronauts.

International spacecraft with Chinese docking technology can be docked with the station, Zhou said.

Zhou noted the Long March-5B carrier rocket, set to launch capsules for the space station, is expected to make its maiden flight in 2020.

The forum, jointly sponsored by the China manned space engineering office and Sun Yat-Sen University, was held over the weekend.