Beijing: China has revealed its plans to launch a 60-ton space station by 2020 and invited suggestions from public to assign a suitable name for the mission.

"The 60-ton space station is rather small compared to the International Space Station (419 tons), and Russia's Mir Space Station (137 tons) which served between 1996 and 2001," said Pang Zhihao, a researcher and deputy editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine, Space International.

According to China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) office, the space station is composed of a core module and two others where experiments will be conducted.

A cargo spaceship to transport supplies will also be developed. The 18.1 meter long core module, with a maximum diameter of 4.2 meters and a launch weight of 20 to 22 tons, will be launched first.

The two experiment modules will then blast off to dock with the core module.
Each laboratory module is 14.4 meters long, with the same maximum diameter and launch weight of the core module.

The CMSE also wants the public to get involved by suggesting names for the space station, due to be completed by around 2020.

Pang said it is the first time that the office confirmed plans to build a cargo spaceship, which is vital for long-term space missions.

China previously named the space lab ‘Tiangong’ meaning heavenly palace, and the spacecraft to transport astronauts was named "Shenzhou", divine vessel.

Its moon probes were named after the country's mythical Moon Goddess "Chang'e". But the names were selected without public input. China is now in the second phase of its manned space program.

According to the schedule, a space module Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft will be launched in the latter half of this year.
Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X will be launched next year to dock with Tiangong-1.

But problems in ensuring long-term missions for astronauts need to be overcome.
Considering this, China has recently approved a five-year scientific research program to prepare astronauts for long-term missions in space.

The program aims to establish astronauts' operational and decision-making abilities in space, along with any psychological and physical changes they undergo living in cramped compartments in weightless conditions, Director of the Astronaut Centre of China, Chen Shanguang said.

The manned space program will lay the foundation for possible missions in future, such as sending men to the moon, according to the CMSE.

(Agencies)