What Is China Doing In Space?

China recently launched their second space station, and aim to have another by the early 2020s. Just how advanced is China's space program?

On September 15, 2016, China launched its second space station into orbit -- the Tiangong-2. It's the latest triumph for the Chinese space program, which has come a long way in a short amount of time. Julian Huguet has the details in today's DNews report.

First, some context: It's no secret that Americans can be a twinge ethnocentric. There's even a specific term for this tendency of ours. It's sometimes reflected in coverage of space stories, in which it seems NASA is the only space agency on Earth.

Not so, and as such we're launching (heh) a short series exploring the space programs of other countries. First up is China, whose national space administration is cleverly named the China National Space Administration -- or CNSA for short. Founded in 1993, CNSA is a relatively new player on the space scene, but it's getting a lot done.

China is only the third country, after the U.S. and Russia, to independently put astronauts in space -- ten and counting. In 2011, CNSA put its own space station into orbit. The Tiangong-1 was a fully functioning space lab with docking capabilities, and since launch it's been home to two manned missions.

RELATED: Another Saturn Moon May Hide Subsurface Ocean

Alas, the now-empty space station stopped sending data back to Earth in March of 2016. A few months later, CNSA announced it expects the space lab to fall to Earth in 2017. That vague time frame has some people worried, as it suggests the agency no longer has control over the spacecraft.

In any case, the Tiangang-2 launch was a complete success, by all accounts. The new space station has improved lab facilities and living quarters, and more real estate generally. China's first manned mission to the station is scheduled to last for 30 days. The agency hopes to get a larger space station into orbit by the early 2020s.

China has also launched more than 180 satellites into space, according to the UCS satellite database, studying everything from weather patterns to dark matter.

The CNSA has big plans, too. They hope to send Earth's first rover to the dark side of the moon and have a Martian probe mission in the works. Keep an eye on the DNews channel for more coverage of Earth's many space programs.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

Science Alert: China pretty much just admitted it's lost control of its space station

Business Insider: China's space program is growing extremely fast

The Guardian: China: the new space superpower