Once the ISS is retired in 2024, the Chinese space station will be the only manned research facility in orbit.

China is pushing ahead with its plans to establish itself as one of the influential space powers in the world. The nation is currently developing its very own space station, and expects to have it completely assembled around 2022.

Dubbed Tiangong, which translates as “Heavenly Palace,” this is China’s first project to have a permanently crewed space station in orbit. The project follows the launch of two space labs — Tiangong-1 (pictured above) and Tiangong-2, which took to space in 2011 and 2016, respectively.

A replica of the Chinese space station was unveiled today at a renowned aerospace fair in Zhuhai, a coastal city in China’s southern Guangdong province, reports AFP.

The Tiangong replica went on display at the Airshow China 2018 — the country’s main aerospace exhibition and one of the top five largest air fairs worldwide, notes the Russian news agency TASS.

So far, the “Heavenly Palace” consists of just the habitat module, designed to accommodate three astronauts living and working on board the Chinese space station. The module measures 55 feet in length and weighs 60 tons, which makes Tiangong considerably smaller than the 400-ton International Space Station (ISS).

Similar to the ISS, the Chinese orbital outpost is to be fitted with solar panels to power the space station. In addition, Tiangong will be extended to comprise two more modules, those being dedicated to scientific research.

According to Space Daily, the Tiangong space station is poised to become the only manned research facility in orbit once the ISS is retired in 2024. When that happens, China will be the only nation to have a space station orbiting Earth.

The country has invested billions in its space program, and also plans to send a manned mission to the moon in the near future. As the Inquisitr previously reported, China has already launched the first part of its robotic mission to the lunar far side — and will attempt to deploy a rover and a lander on the dark side of the moon this December.

Earlier this year, China announced that it intends to grant access to “all countries” to the Tiangong space station once the orbiting laboratory becomes operational. The facility will enable astronauts to conduct biological research and microgravity experiments, and has already received 40 project proposals from 27 countries that wish to do research on board the Chinese space station.

“There is no doubt that China will use its station in a similar way as the ISS partners are using their outpost: research, technology and as a stepping-stone for deep-space exploration,” said Chen Lan, analyst at GoTaikonauts.com, a website focused on the Chinese space program.

“Many countries, and increasingly private companies and universities, have space programs, but cannot afford to build their own space station. The ability to put payloads and experiments on a human spaceflight platform is extremely valuable.”

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