China announces plan for a new space telescope as it readies to launch its next space station crew


TAIPEI, Taiwan -- China unveiled its ambitious plans on Wednesday to deploy a cutting-edge telescope named Xuntian, designed for deep-space exploration, alongside the upcoming launch of a three-member crew to its orbiting space station. Lin Xiqiang, the spokesperson and deputy director general of the Chinese Manned Space Agency, confirmed that the Xuntian telescope will be integrated into the Tiangong space station, sharing its orbital path.

Notably, no specific timeline for the telescope's installation has been disclosed. However, state broadcaster CCTV reported that this advanced telescope will facilitate extensive surveys and sky mapping, opening up new horizons in space observation.

China's profound interest in celestial observations has roots in thousands of years of star and planet tracking. In modern times, China has solidified its position as a frontrunner in space exploration and scientific endeavors.

This significant announcement coincided with the imminent departure of a new trio of astronauts — Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie, and Jiang Xinlin — who are set to replace a crew that has been residing on the space station for the past six months.

The launch is scheduled for late Thursday morning. Notably, Tang, a seasoned astronaut, led a three-month space mission in 2021.

China has achieved remarkable strides in its burgeoning space endeavours and has set its sights on sending a crewed mission to the moon by the end of this decade. Simultaneously, it pursues various other ambitious projects in the realm of space exploration.

This program finds itself in competition with the United States, but it also seeks to garner support from nations across Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, and other regions.

China constructed its own space station after being excluded from the International Space Station, primarily due to U.S. concerns regarding control by the People's Liberation Army, the military arm of the ruling Communist Party.

China's inaugural manned space mission in 2003 marked it as the third country, following the former Soviet Union and the U.S., to put a person into space using its own resources.

For the time being, the United States enjoys a significant advantage over China in terms of spending, supply chains, and capabilities. Nevertheless, China has made notable breakthroughs, such as returning lunar samples for the first time in decades and successfully landing a rover on the unexplored far side of the moon.

In contrast, the United States aims to put astronauts back on the lunar surface by the end of 2025 as part of its renewed commitment to crewed missions, with the assistance of private sector entities like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Additionally, both countries have separately landed rovers on Mars, and China plans to follow the United States in landing a spacecraft on an asteroid.

The incoming space station crew will also be tasked with maintenance on its solar panels, which have been affected by debris from the solar system, as reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.

A substantial portion of these particles were generated by China during the destruction of one of its satellites through a missile test in 2007, seen as a demonstration of its capabilities in the face of competition from the U.S. and its allies.