While NASA may be planning to send up the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, China is drawing up plans of its own. They are going to build their own space telescope, one which would outperform Hubble.

First reported in the Chinese English Language Daily, the new telescope will be similar to Hubble, but will have a field of view 300 times larger. The new telescope will also have the ability to dock with China's modular space station, the Tiangong.

This docking ability isn’t just a gimmick. It’s a solution to one of the problems plaguing Hubble—the need for shuttle missions for servicing and maintaining the telescope. The China National Space Administration realized that it could avoid this problem by having the satellite dock with Tiangong whenever repairs or maintenance are necessary

While no date has been released for the launch of the telescope, and it is currently unnamed, these plans would be intertwined with the plans for the Tiangong space station.

Tiangong-1 was launched in 2011 and has been used as a crewed laboratory and a technological test-bed. A future launch in 2016 will send up the Tiangong-2, which will contain a room for a crew of three and life support for 20 days. Another planned module, the Tiangong-3, is scheduled further on in the 2020s, and it is expected that the space telescope will likely follow suit.

An artist’s rendering of the Tiangong-1 module, China’s space station with a Shenzhou spacecraft, preparing to dock with the module. Credit: CNSA

One of the goals of the telescope is to capture images of an area spanning 40% of space over a time period of ten years with a precision similar to Hubble. Data gleaned from these images will astronomers in understanding the origin, development, and evolution of the universe.

However, a problem surrounding this project is the shortage of details regarding the launch of the space telescope. Unlike NASA or the ESA, China’s space agency has yet to disclose dates and timelines, a standard operating procedure in most space agencies’ projects. Furthermore, while they have disclosed the goals of their project and the results they are expecting, technical details (such as type of cameras or sensors) are lacking, which makes it difficult to gauge the level of detail of planning for the project.

Yet, it must be noted that China is notoriously secretive, so it doesn't necessarily mean that the tech isn't there.

While these lack of details may be due to paranoia over spying, it may also be symbolical of China’s tendency to propagandize its projects regardless of the success or failure thereof. China is currently in a space race with India similar to that between the United States and USSR back during the Cold War.

But in the end, if China does really pull off this project, the whole of humanity will benefit from the information and the research that it will provide.


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