China's first space station is now complete in Earth orbit — and on a new set of coins.
The People's Bank of China on Monday (Jan. 9) issued gold and silver coins in celebration of the completion of the nation's Tiangong space station. The orbital complex, which was first proposed in 1992, was finished last year with the addition of two science laboratories to an earlier launched core module.
The 0.1-oz (3 grams) gold commemorative coin features the T-shaped Tiangong ("Heavenly Palace") on its reverse. The space station is shown with both Shenzhou crew spacecraft and Tianzhou cargo vehicles docked at either end of the Tianhe ("Harmony of the Heavens") core module.
The engraved rendering also captures the large solar arrays extending from the Wentian and Mengtian laboratory cabin modules and a Chinese taikonaut wearing a Feitian spacesuit at the end of the space station's robotic arm.
The reverse design is completed with the logo of the Chinese Manned Spaceflight Project (CMS), the words "China Space Station" (in Chinese) and denomination, 50 yuan (about $7.40 U.S.). The 0.7-inch (18 millimeters) 24-karat gold coin is limited to 20,000 pieces.
The 1-oz (30 grams) silver coin depicts two taikonauts working outside of the space station. One of the spacewalkers is mounted to the end of the robotic arm, while the other is half out of an airlock. Unlike the gold coin, the silver commemorative is partially colored, with the backdrop of space being rendered in luminescent purple, pink, blue and green colors.
To the left of the extravehicular scene are small representations of the "three-step" development strategy, or phases, that China's space program went through to bring its human spaceflight program to where it is now. The three steps shown are the launch of crewed spacecraft, the deployment of single-module laboratories and, finally, the multi-module space station as it exists today.
Like the gold coin, the silver's reverse also displays the CMS logo, "China Space Station" (in Chinese) and denomination, 10 yuan (about $1.50 U.S.). The 1.5-inch (40 mm) commemorative is limited to a maximum circulation of 50,000 pieces.
Both the gold and silver coins share a common obverse or front design featuring the emblem of the People's Republic of China, as well as the country (China) and year of issue. (Although the coins are being released in 2023, they are dated for 2022, the year the space station was declared complete.)
The China Space Station gold and silver commemorative coins were minted by Shenzhen Guobao Mint Co., Ltd. and will be distributed by the China Gold Coin Corporation. Sale details, including pricing for the two coins, are scheduled to be released on Wednesday (Jan. 11) on the China Gold Coin Network website.
The People's Bank of China last issued a similar set of gold and silver coins in 2021 to mark the success of Tianwen-1, China's first mission to orbit and land on Mars. China also celebrated the completion of its space station with a set of four postage stamps released by China Post on Dec. 25, 2022. The commemoratives, titled "China's Space Station," feature illustrations of the Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket, icons of different science disciplines, two taikonauts on a spacewalk and the completed space station.
The stamps, which are expected to be available for six months, carry a face value of 1.20 yuan (about 20 cents U.S.) and are sold as a set for 5.40 yuan (about 80 cents U.S.). They are limited to 8 million sets and 1.1 million sheetlets.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.