The Chinese have just launched their Space station module Tiangong-2 into Earth orbit with a crew to follow shortly on board the Shenzhou spacecraft, according to AFP. But already china is looking ahead to its larger space station, scheduled to begin construction in 2017 and enter service in 2022. The Chinese intend to send crews up to the future space station, which will consist of a large, central module and two attached lab modules, for stays of over a year.

They will conduct experiments in a wide variety of scientific specialties including bio-medicine and physics.

The launch of the Tiangong-2 and the ramping up of a larger space station represents just two more steps in the slow and steady Chinese space program. China has been seeking to develop its in-house space faring capabilities with a series of increasingly ambitious flights of the Shenzhou, including visits to a previous space station module, Tiangong-1.

It has also explored the moon with two orbiters and, three years ago, a lunar lander with a small rover. Future plans include a humans to the moon expedition and probes to Mars.

China apparently regards its space program as an integral part of its development as a rising superpower. Flying in space helps to drive technological development and economic growth. Also, China achieved lots of prestige as being only the third country to independently send people into space.

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China’s success in space has set up a debate in the United States on the question of whether or not that country should be approached for cooperative missions beyond the Earth. Currently, such space cooperation is officially banned by American law out of concern for China’s imperialist moves in the South China Sea and in the East China Sea and its hacking attacks on American computer networks. China’s status as a human rights violator does not help its case either.

The argument for more space cooperation is that it would establish more ties between China and the rest of the world community. Keeping that in mind, it looks like that neither Russia nor what is left of the European Union will be quite as finicky as the United States.  

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