Sure, the U.S. might be easing up on its spacefaring ambitions due to NASA budget cuts — but that doesn’t mean other countries aren’t champing at the bit to stake out a corner of the heavens.
China has been gearing up for a push into space exploration, and the nation has unveiled plans for a large-scale space station they hope to have fully operational by 2022. China has had the functioning Tiangong 1 space lab in orbit since 2011, and they plan to send a second lab up to join it in 2016 — a mission officials say should help the nation’s space program iron out the kinks of connecting the multistage project into one big station.
Though China is obviously taking point on getting this station up and running, Space reports the nation is already putting in contingencies that could easily make the station an international project if other nations want to be a part of the effort. They’ve set aside space for international cooperative research, and are also designing the station so it can dock with different types of craft:
“We reserved a number of platforms that can be used for international cooperative projects in our future space station when we designed it," Yang Liwei, deputy director of China Manned Space Engineering and China's first astronaut said via Space. “In addition to collaboration in applied experiments, we also designed adapters that can dock with other nations' spacecraft.”
One reason this could be significant moving forward (aside from the fact that it’d give us another space station in orbit)? The current International Space Station is almost 16 years old, and though NASA is working with other nations to extend its viability to around 2028, the station won’t last forever — and it’d be nice for humanity to already have another one flying around.
China Manned Space Engineering has released a mockup of what the station will look like when completed, and you can check that out above.