Geographies in Depth

The rise and rise of China's space programme – in numbers

The sun is about to come up over the South Pacific Ocean in this colorful scene photographed by one of the Expedition 35 crew members aboard the Earth-orbiting International Space Station between 4 and 5 a.m. local time on May 5, 2013 and released on May 9, 2013. The space station was at a point above Earth located at 27.4 degrees south latitude and 110.1 degrees west longitude, a few hundred miles east of Easter Island.  NASA/Handout via Reuters  (OUTER SPACE - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR  EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTXZGBL


Joe Myers
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Two Chinese astronauts, or taikonauts, are currently aboard an experimental space station.

Tiangong 2, also known as the Heavenly Palace, is the second laboratory to be launched by the world's second-largest economy, and on its decks the dedicated duo will conduct experiments aimed at creating a permanent space station by 2022.

As China’s extraterrestrial ambitions lift off, here’s a numerical look at the country’s past, present and future in space.

Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft carrying astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong blasts off from the launchpad in Jiuquan, China, October 17, 2016. China Daily/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA.     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2P2ZZ
The Shenzhou-11 blasts off on 17 October 2016 Image: China Daily/Reuters

2003 – The year China launched its first manned mission into space, becoming the third country – after the United States and Russia – to do so.

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11 – Since then, 11 Chinese taikonauts have travelled into space. For Jing Haipeng, one of the astronauts on the current mission, this will be his third journey into space.

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (L), Chen Dong salute before the launch of  Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft, in Jiuquan, China, October 17, 2016. China Daily/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA.    REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA - RTX2P2X7
Shenzhou-11 astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong salute before launch Image: Reuters

6 – This is China’s sixth manned mission into space.


30 – The number of days the taikonauts are planning to spend aboard Tiangong 2, making it China’s longest manned mission to space.

$6.1 billion – According to the OECD, this was China’s space budget in 2013. It's still some way behind US spending, as this chart shows.

These countries have the biggest space budgets

20 – The number of passengers a state-backed space plane hopes to carry to the edge of space – at an estimated cost of $200,000 to $250,000 for a ticket.


2020 – The year by which China is planning to launch a rover to Mars. In December 2013, the country landed Chang’e 3 and its rover, Yutu, on the moon. It was the third country to perform a soft landing on the moon's surface.

A photograph of the giant screen at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center shows photo of China's Chang'e 3 probe, taken by the country's first lunar rover, Yutu, during the mutual-photograph process, in Beijing December 15, 2013. China aims to launch its next unmanned lunar probe in 2017, with the key aim of collecting and bringing back lunar samples, an official said on Monday, after the country's first probe landed successfully on the moon over the weekend. Photographers were permitted to take photos of the video screen inside the control center.  Picture taken December 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY POLITICS) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA - RTX16M1S
The Chang'e 3 probe, photographed by the lunar rover Yutu Image: Reuters

2022 – By 2022, China plans to have a fully operational space station.

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