Human Activities in Space
China is developing its own space station as the next phase of its human spaceflight program. The first module for this station was completed in 2010, with China planning to launch it in 2011. The module, Tiangong-1 (Chinese for “Heavenly Palace”), is undergoing testing and will be launched on a Chinese Long March 2F rocket.
The ISS is a joint project of the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 of ESA’s member states to build and operate a research facility in LEO that can host crews of up to six people. Assembly of the ISS in space began in 1998.
Bigelow Aerospace has been working for several years to develop commercial orbital habitats using expandable modules. This approach, leveraging technology licensed from NASA, involves launching modules in a compact form and inflating them once in orbit, creating much larger volumes than would be possible with traditional metallic structures.
The best-known in-space platform is the International Space Station (ISS), a project led by the United States in conjunction with Russia, Canada, Japan, and several member nations of ESA. The ISS operates in LEO and serves as a research facility and testing laboratory. The station has been crewed by astronauts and cosmonauts from 15 different nations and has been serviced by a variety of spacecraft.
Another type of in-space platform currently under development is Bigelow Aerospace’s Sundancer, an inflatable habitat tentatively scheduled for launch in 2011. Sundancer builds upon the success of the Genesis I and II demonstration modules, launched in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Sundancer is intended to accommodate experiments and support humans in orbit.