Image Source: BBC
China’s Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced on Sunday that it has successfully launched a third manned mission to its new space station, sending three astronauts to continue construction work for six months.
At 10:44 a.m. local time, the astronauts boarded the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft, launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia by a Long March 2F rocket.
Before returning to Earth in December, the team will spend six months living and working at the Tiangong Space Station’s Tianhe core module. Heavenly Palace is the name given to Tiangong.
Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe are among the crew members, and they are scheduled to dock with the space station approximately 6.5 hours after launch.
Chen, the mission commander, previously held the record for the most extended stay in space by a Chinese astronaut during China’s Shenzhou-11 manned space mission in 2016. On the Shenzhou-9 mission in 2012, Liu became the first Chinese woman to travel to space. Cai’s first mission in space will be this one.
This is the space station’s third crewed mission, with China aiming to have it fully staffed and operational by December 2022. In September 2021, three more astronauts completed the first crewed trip, which lasted three months. Three astronauts spent six months in orbit for the first time on Shenzhou-13, the second mission.
For many countries, a six-month mission is routine, but it is a crucial opportunity for Chinese astronauts to get experience with long-term space missions and help prepare future astronauts to do the same.
Another crewed mission, two laboratory modules, and two cargo missions are all scheduled for launch before the end of the year.
The crew of Shenzhou-14 will assist in the docking, setup, and testing of the two laboratory modules, Wentian and Mengtian, which will launch in July and October, respectively.
According to the CMSA, the modules will be joined into a T-shaped structure, along with the Tianhe core cabin, which will be increased from 50 cubic meters to 110 cubic meters, providing more living space for the astronauts. The astronauts will perform a total of two to three spacewalks.
Another three astronauts will rotate and reside with the crew for five to ten days after the Shenzhou-14 mission, increasing the total number of Chinese astronauts in space to six.
The Tiangong space station is projected to endure 15 years once construction is done. According to the CMSA, China intends to send two crewed and two cargo missions to the station each year.
On May 29, the Shenzhou-14 crewed spacecraft was moved to the launching area at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, together with a Long March-2F carrier rocket.
Last year’s Shenzhou-13 mission was a significant step forward for China’s fledgling space program, quickly becoming one of the most advanced in the world.
China’s space program was founded in the early 1970s, years after American astronaut Neil Armstrong had already set foot on the moon. The Cultural Revolution in China, however, halted the country’s space program, delaying progress until the early 1990s.