I really hope this isn’t your first time learning about the three Chinese astronauts (taikonauts) currently on orbit Earth at their nation’s space station. However, earlier this week, two taikonauts performed a spacewalk outside the Tiangong space station but to no fan fair from its space agency.
Although I wouldn’t be shocked if you’re reading this and didn’t know that China has its own space station and semi-regular launches of its own citizens. Unlike in the United States and Europe, the China Manned Space Agency operates beneath the military (People’s Liberation Army), so many of its projects have been shrouded in secrecy.
Right now, China has three taikonauts in orbit on Tiangong on a long duration six-month stay similar to Expeditions on the International Space Station. This is China’s second kind of these missions, with two more lined up behind it. And like its international counterparts, part of maintaining a full-time station mean spacewalks, and a curious one took place this week.
China’s secret spacewalk
The CMSA has been conducting spacewalks since 2008. While the rest of China’s space program remains secret, we’ve become accustomed to announcements and updates from state-run media and social media accounts. However, we were surprised that on February 28, rumors of a spacewalk were seen on Chinese social media. On March 2, the CMSA announced a successful spacewalk by two of Tiangong’s crew members.
No details on what the two taikonauts were up to during their spacewalk, and many are wondering what changed that it is now secret. In the past, we even had milestones and videos of the event from the CMSA.
One item to look at is the change of leadership of many government officials as today starts the beginning of a new parliament session. So some position somewhere could have a new seat holder, and they went back to not sharing anything about the spacewalks with the public.
The lack of transparency from China has been troubling to many who work in the space business, as the nation has grown its space presence immensely in the last few decades. While we mostly see headlines about the occasional out-of-control booster stage. The industry is looking at its assets in orbit that could be at risk if something goes wrong with one of China’s missions and leave the rest of the world in the dark.