China successfully launches crewed mission to complete space station construction
The crew will spend six months on the Tiangong station, during which they will oversee the addition of two laboratory modules to join the main Tianhe living space that was launched in April 2021The Long March-2F carrier rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft and three astronauts, takes off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center for a crewed mission to build China’s space station, near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China. (VIA REUTERS)
China on Sunday successfully launched the Shenzhou 14 crewed mission to the Tiangong space station, where the three astronauts are going stay for six months to complete its construction, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced on Sunday.
The Shenzhou 14 crew will spend six months on the Tiangong station, during which they will oversee the addition of two laboratory modules to join the main Tianhe living space that was launched in April 2021.
The astronauts lifted off on the Shenzhou 14 spacecraft at 10:44am local time, propelled by a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the remote Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
The spacecraft is expected to take around seven hours to reach the under-construction space station.
The station will operate in low-Earth orbit at an altitude between 340 to 450 kilometres. Once completed, it will have a lifespan of 10 years, but experts believe it could last more than 15 years with appropriate maintenance and repairs, according to Chinese state media.
The crew for Shenzhou 14 comprises three trained pilots from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) air force: Liu Yang, the first Chinese woman in space, experienced astronaut and commander Chen Dong, and pilot Cai Xuzhe, who is on his first space mission.
“About 577 seconds after the launch, Shenzhou 14 separated from the rocket and entered its designated orbit. The crew members are in good shape and the launch is a complete success,” an official news agency Xinhua report said, quoting the CMSA.
The crew on Shenzhou 14 will work with the ground team to complete the rendezvous with Tiangong, followed by docking and transposing the two lab modules with the core module, said Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA, at a press conference on Saturday.
While, the The Tianhe core module was launched in April 2021, the Wentian lab module is next and set to be launched in July. Finally, the Mengtian will be launched in October, following which they will join the space station.
Two other crewed missions have already been to the space station and returned safely to Earth.
According to official media, China started the manned space programme in 1992.
The first step was to send astronauts into space and return safely. The launches of Shenzhou 5 in 2003 and Shenzhou 6 in 2005 fulfilled the mission.
The second step was to test key technologies needed for a permanent space station, including extra-vehicular activity, orbital docking, and in-orbit propellant refuelling.
The third step is to assemble and operate a permanently crewed space station, which will mark a new high in China’s space technology.
“China has so far launched more than a dozen manned spacecraft, one cargo spacecraft, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, sent more than 11 astronauts into space and completed the first two steps of the manned space programme,” the Xinhua news agency reported.