China launched the core of its space station in April and dispatched three astronauts in June. However, although the space station may not be built until the end of 2022, long queues of experiments from all over the world have been waiting to be carried out.Chinese scientists told nature The China Manned Space Administration (CMSA) has initially approved more than 1,000 experiments, several of which have already been launched.
Before April, the International Space Station (ISS) was the only space laboratory in orbit, and many researchers said that the Tiangong (or “Tiangong”) is a welcome supplement to astronomical and earth observations, and to study how microgravity and cosmic radiation affect phenomena. Such as bacterial growth and fluid mixing.
However, others believe that manned space stations are expensive and used more for political than scientific purposes.
Julie Robinson, chief scientist of human exploration and operations at NASA’s Washington headquarters, said: “No matter who builds and operates the platform, increasing scientific access to space will bring scientific benefits globally.”
“We need more space stations, because one space station is definitely not enough,” added Agnieszka Pollo, an astrophysicist at the National Nuclear Research Center in Warsaw, who was part of the team that sent experiments to study gamma-ray bursts.
Open to the world
The International Space Station was launched in 1998 as a partnership between the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada (see “Theme Variations”).It has been placed More than 3,000 experiments Since then, China has been barred from entering due to US regulations prohibiting NASA from using funds to cooperate with China.
Although most of the experiments planned at Tiangong will involve Chinese researchers, China has stated that its space station will be open to cooperation with all countries, including the United States.
In June 2019, CMSA and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which promote space cooperation, Nine experiments selectedIn addition to the 1,000 temporarily approved by China, the space station will increase after completion. Simonetta Di Pippo, director of UNOOSA in Vienna, said that these involved 23 institutions in 17 countries.
Tricia Larose, a medical researcher at the University of Oslo, who is leading a project scheduled for 2026, said that the space station provides brand new facilities and China is encouraging experiments that have not been tried in space before. “They said, yes, build your hardware, give it a new look, do something that has never been done before, and then give it to us.”
Zhang Shuangnan, an astrophysicist at the Beijing Institute of High Energy Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and an advisor to CMSA, said that although most of the projects approved so far have been led by Chinese researchers, many have international collaborators.
“Scientist’s Game Room”
The first part of Tiangong’s arrival is a core module called Tianhe (“Tianhe”). In late May, a cargo ship named “Tianzhou II” (“Tianzhou”) was sent aboard and docked to transport fuel, space suits and experimental equipment. In June of this year, the three Chinese astronauts on the Shenzhou 12 (“Shenzhou”)-or “Tyco astronauts”-also docked and entered the 17-meter-long cabin, which will be theirs in the next three months. Home.
In the next year or more, CMSA will send another eight missions to Tiangong. Two will be delivered to Wentian (“Xuntian”) and Mengtian (“Dream Paradise”) modules, mainly for scientific experiments (see “China’s first space station”).
These will be “scientists’ playrooms,” says Paulo de Souza, a physicist at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, who has developed sensors for use in space.
Yang Yang, Director of International Cooperation of the Space Utilization Technology and Engineering Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the space station will have more than 20 experimental racks, all of which are micro-laboratories in a closed, pressurized environment. Yang said that outdoors, there will be 67 research hardware connection points facing the earth or the sky. A powerful central computer will process the experimental data before sending it back to Earth.
Organoids and dark matter
The experiments sent to the new space station covered many areas. Zhang is the lead researcher of the HERD (High Energy Cosmic Radiation Detection Facility), which is a partner of Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Germany, and is scheduled to be completed in 2027. The particle detector will study dark matter and cosmic rays, and the cost is about 1 to 2 billion yuan (US$155 to US$310 million).
Zhang and Pollo are also involved in POLAR-2, a project that will study the polarization of gamma rays emitted from large and distant explosions, with the goal of elucidating the characteristics of gamma-ray bursts, and possibly even gravitational waves.
Larose plans to send 3D spots of healthy and cancerous intestinal tissue called organoids. She wants to know whether the extremely low gravity environment will slow down or prevent the growth of cancer cells, which may lead to new treatments.
Other projects by scientists from India and Mexico will study the nebula’s ultraviolet emission and Earth’s infrared data to study meteorological conditions and the driving factors of severe storms.
Laros pointed out that although many projects are cooperative projects between Chinese and Western scientists, geopolitical tensions make cooperation more difficult. She said that Norway has not yet signed a bilateral agreement with China to give the green light to her project. Merlin Kole, an astrophysicist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland who is also working on POLAR-2, added that stricter compliance with export regulations means increased bureaucracy in sending electronic hardware to China.
But DiPibo said that so far, the tensions have not affected the progress of the projects selected by UNOOSA, adding that the agency is discussing plans with CMSA to send more experiments to Tiangong by the end of next year.
What you pay for science
Some scientists believe that the manned space station is a waste-the cost of the Tiangong has not been disclosed, but the construction and maintenance cost of the International Space Station is about 100 billion euros (118 billion US dollars).
Gregory Kulacki, a Chinese security analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said: “Through robotic tasks, you will get greater scientific benefits.” “In China. , Just like in the United States, there has always been tension between scientists who want to do the best science they can and love robotic missions and governments who want to use manned space programs primarily for political purposes.”
But other researchers pointed out that although satellites provide alternatives for certain observations, manned space stations are essential for many experiments, especially those that require microgravity. They provide a place for long-term observation, data processing capabilities and visits for astronauts who can perform maintenance tasks and conduct experiments.
In addition, in addition to the researcher’s housing experiment, Tiangong also intends to test manned space travel technology to support China’s space exploration goals, Zhang said.
Since the current funds for the International Space Station will only operate until a certain time between 2024 and 2028, Tiangong may eventually become the only space station in operation on Earth.
Tiangong is expected to operate for at least ten years, and China has plans to launch other spacecraft to work with it. The China Sky Survey Space Telescope, or “Surveillance” (“Sky Survey”) is a two-meter optical telescope that will be comparable to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, and will be docked with Tiangong regularly for refueling and maintenance. Scheduled to launch in 2023, it will have a larger field of view than Hubble to observe the depths of the universe.
This article is reproduced with authorization and has been First published July 23, 2021.