China aims to complete space station within the next decade

China’s announced the details of its plans  for a space station – and says it should be finished within the next ten years.

Currently known as Tiangong – or Heavenly Palace – the space station will be able to hold a crew of three, state-run news agency Xinghua reports. Like Mir, it will use docking hardware that’s compatible with international standards.

Weighing around 66 tons, it will contain two laboratories which will be used for astronomy, microgravity and biological experiments. But with the central module just 60 feet by 14 and the lans 50 by 14, it will be far smaller than either the International Space Station or Russia’s Mir.

The construction schedule is fast. The first module will go up later this year to test docking methods with an unmanned spacecraft, and will be followed by a manned mission allowing a crew of three to stay  the station for 20 days.

A third module will go up in 2015, supporting a crew for 40 days and paving the way for the final construction.

It’s an ambitious schedule – but it does no more than continue the country’s headlong rush into space. It’s only ten years since China first put a man into orbit, and three since it carried out its first spacewalk.

While the space station’s current name may sound rather beautiful, China thinks it can do better. It’s asking members of the public to suggest a final name for both the station and the spacecraft that will serve it.