China’s military has been increasing spending in all sectors over the last few decades, and has most recently been asserting itself in international spaces such as the South China Sea. Now, the Chinese military has taken a bold step to boost its presence in the final frontier: China has put its second space station in orbit above the Earth.
According to Chinese media outlet Xinhua News, the launch of the Tiangong-2 space station was a success. The unmanned space station was put into orbit by a Chinese-made Long March-2F rocket launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the remote Gobi Desert in northern China. The Tiangong-2 will eventually assume in orbit around 393 kilometers above the Earth.
China’s deputy director of manned space engineering told Xinhua News that the space station is intended for rigorous scientific experimentation and will lay the groundwork for a more long-term station similar to the ISS:
The number of experiments carried by Tiangong-2 is the highest so far of all manned space missions [...] The launch of Tiangong-2 will lay a solid foundation for the building and operation of a permanent space station in the future.
Since China's space agencies are run by a branch of their military, some in the U.S. government fear access to the ISS might lead to more Chinese military assertiveness in space. It has been speculated that these fears are why China has been blocked by the United States from using the International Space Station.
Chinese state-run media CCTV reported that the Tiangong-2 will dock with the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft next month after settling into its orbit. Two astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-11 will then board the space station where they will remain for a month conducting tests. Chinese space agency reports that these operations are part of China’s larger plan to send a manned mission to Mars in 2020.
China’s first space station, the Tiangong-1, has reached the end of its operating life and will fall to Earth in late 2017. China has recently been making big moves in terms of space development and technology. China recently launched the world’s first quantum satellite, and has built the world’s largest radio telescope which will search for alien life in the universe.