China has reached another technological landmark with the safe return of its space station crew after a six-month mission. As the three astronauts celebrated the longest manned space mission so far for the nation, a civilian space plan has already been laid out for the rest of the decade and beyond. China is set to be the most committed spacefaring nation in the world. The trio’s 182 days in orbit almost doubled the 92-day record set by the previous mission. In record time, construction of the Tiangong space station will be completed this year. The Earth-orbiting station will be staffed by rotating crews to conduct experiments and astronomical observations. Next-generation manned launch vehicles and spacecraft with reusable capsules are being built. A giant telescope to scan deep space will be attached to the space station. Interestingly, Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, said private capital may be considered in future missions, particularly in construction and maintenance of the space station. Touchdown for Chinese astronauts after six months on Tiangong space station So the space programme will also be commercial. And international cooperation will be an element as qualified nations may also access the station. Washington has allowed many countries, to use the ageing International Space Station but deliberately banned China. Beijing will not make such a short-sighted and petty mistake. The involvement of private enterprise was already hinted at earlier in April when Elon Musk, the billionaire boss of SpaceX, was featured at an event in the Chinese embassy in Washington to promote space exploration. Musk’s pre-recorded message aimed to promote manned missions to Mars and to set up a colony there. The invitation was a surprise. In December, China complained to the US that the Tiangong had to take evasive action to avoid potential collision with satellites from Musk’s company last July and October. China opens space station door to working with foreign astronauts Musk is among an elite group of billionaire investors in commercial space enterprises, including space tourism. China clearly wants a slice of the potentially huge hi-tech market. As if to emphasise confidence in its programme, around the time of the three astronauts’ return, the China National Space Administration also set off two rockets from different spaceports within six hours of each other. One carries a special transmission satellite to replace an older satellite and to provide high-definition video, radio and television broadcasts across the South China Sea, Southeast Asia and Pacific Island nations. Another deploys an atmosphere-monitoring satellite. China’s mastery of space technology can no longer be denied. Like its emphasis on its peaceful economic rise, it wants to develop its space programme for peaceful purposes. To allow participation of private and foreign enterprises will help convince a sceptical West.