February 5, 2023

China sends three more astronauts to its Tiangong Space Station

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(CNN) — China sent three astronauts to its nearly completed space station on Tuesday, a major milestone for the country’s fledgling space program.

The three astronauts, Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, lifted off in the Shenzhou-15 spacecraft at 11:08 pm local time (10:08 am ET) Tuesday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert, Inner Mongolia.

The team will mark the first crew rotation on the Tiangong Space Station, replacing the Shenzhou-14 crew that landed on the station in June, and the beginning of a long-term residency on the station.

Shenzhou-15 is expected to dock with the space station about six and a half hours after launch and will be on station for the next six months.

The Shenzhou-15 mission will carry out the last stage of the station’s construction and kick off the first stage of its application and development, Ji Qiming, assistant director of the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said Monday. at a press conference reported by state media Xinhua.

During the mission, the crew will also carry out more than 40 experiments and tests in the research and application fields of space science, space medicine and space technology, as well as three to four extravehicular activities (EVAs), according to state media.

This is the fourth crewed mission during the construction of the space station, which China plans to have fully crewed and operational by December 2022. The first crewed mission, a three-month stay for three other astronauts, was completed in September 2021. The The second, Shenzhou -13, was three astronauts who spent six months in space for the first time. The third, Shenzhou-14, launched in June with three more astronauts who spent six months in space.

Earlier this year, two laboratory modules, Wentian and Mengtian, were attached to the Tianhe central cabin, the main living space for astronauts. The Mengtian docking on Oct. 31 brought the country’s space station construction to the final stage, CMSA said.

Once the construction is complete, the Tiangong space station is expected to last 15 years. China plans to launch two manned missions and two cargo missions to the station each year, according to the CMSA.



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