Spaceflight Insider

China reveals design for planned Tiangong 3 space station

Artist's rendering of the Tiangong 3 space station.

An artist’s rendering of the Tiangong 3 space station. Image Credit: Adrian Mann /

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) presented several slides of the design of its future space station, called Tiangong 3—meaning “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese. The station is expected to be built sometime between 2018 and 2022.

According to the released slides, the station’s core module, “Tianhe 1” (“galaxy”), will include a laboratory with integrated modular racks for storing scientific equipment. It will also have five docking ports and a robotic arm.

Artist's concept of the Tianhe 1 module.

A diagram of the Tianhe 1 module. Image Credit: aihangtian via

With a mass of about 24 tons (22 metric tons), this module will measure some 59 feet (18.1 meters) in length and 14 feet (4.2 meters) in diameter. Tianhe 1 is expected to launch sometime in 2018, most likely atop a Long March 5 booster, and will serve as a docking hub for future modules and resupply spacecraft.

Tiangong 3 will also have two science modules: “Wengtian” and “Mengtian“. These modules are planned to be used for performing scientific research in microgravity. Both will be some 47 feet (14.4 meters) long and should have the same maximum diameter and launch weight as the core module.

A report appearing in Popular Science noted that Wengtian will be fitted with a set of internal modular racks for scientific missions. It will also have its own small robotic arm to assist taikonauts in conducting experiments out in the vacuum of space. The site noted that Mengtian will have a docking port for interfacing with spacecraft, capable of supporting other modules and spaceships for logistics and repair.


A diagram of the Wengtain science module. Image Credit: aihangtian via

The science modules are scheduled to be sent to space in the 2020–2022 time frame.

“Two space labs will be launched later and dock with the core module, Tianhe 1,” Wang Zhongyang, a spokesman for the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said in April. “The construction of the space station is expected to finish in 2022.”

Tiangong 3 is planned to be visited by crewed Shenzhou vehicles as well as Tianzhou cargo vessels. According to the information revealed by CNSA, the station will be also able to accommodate the country’s future Xuntian space telescope.

The space telescope will be equipped with a 6.5-foot (2-meter) diameter primary mirror and will have a field of view about 300 times larger than NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Xuntian will share the same orbit as the Tiangong 3, which would allow it to easily dock with the Mengtian module for repairs and upgrades if needed.

China’s first space lab, Tiangong 1, was launched in September 2011. In June 2012, three Chinese astronauts inside the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft docked with it for the first time.

Tiangong 1 was visited in June of 2013 when the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft transported another trio of astronauts. In addition to scientific experiments, the crew taught a physics lesson to Chinese students via live television while on board the lab.

Tiangong 2 is currently scheduled to be lofted into space by a Long March 2F rocket in September 2016. The module will be visited by the crewed Shenzhou 11 vehicle and a resupply cargo craft Tianzhou 1.

Video courtesy of Space Animation


Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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