Chinese astronauts blast off to space station as construction goes into high gear

  • The Chinese space station is expected to be built by the end of 2022
  • Shenzhou-14 astronauts to supervise the arrival of the last two modules
  • A space station to celebrate the permanent Chinese population in space

BEIJING (Reuters) – China sent three astronauts on Sunday on a six-month mission to oversee a pivotal period for building its space station, whose final modules are due to launch in the coming months.

The space station, when completed by the end of the year, will mark a significant milestone in China’s three-decade manned space programme, which was first approved in 1992 and initially dubbed “Project 921.” It will also announce the beginning of permanent Chinese habitation in space.

Completing the structure, which accounts for about a fifth of the International Space Station (ISS) by mass, is a source of pride for ordinary Chinese people, crowning President Xi Jinping for 10 years as leader of the ruling Communist Party.

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The Long March-2F rocket, which was used to launch China’s first manned spaceflight on the Shenzhou-5 mission in 2003, lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in northwest China at 10:44 AM (0244 GMT). A live broadcast on state television showed the Shenzhou-14 or “divine ark” spacecraft and its three astronauts.

“I saw the launch of Shenzhou-5 when I was an elementary school student, and now we have Shenzhou-14,” social media developer Zhanna Zhang told Reuters.

“Of course I am very excited, and I am very proud as a Chinese. We are one step away from becoming a superpower in space,” said the 25-year-old.

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Construction began in April last year with the launch of the first and largest of its three units – the Tianhe – the living quarters for the visiting astronauts. The Wentian and Mengtian laboratory units will be launched in July and October respectively.

Shenzhou-14 mission commander Qin Dong, 43, and his colleagues Liu Yang, 43, and Kai Zhuzhi, 46, all of the second group of Chinese astronauts, will live and work on the space station for about 180 days before returning to Earth in December. With the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 crew.

pivotal battle

Former Air Force pilot Chen with Liu, who became China’s first female astronaut in space a decade ago, and Kai, who first participated in a space mission, will oversee the rendezvous, docking and integration of Wentian and Mengtian with the core unit.

They will also install equipment inside and outside the space station and conduct a range of scientific research.

“The Shenzhou-14 mission is a pivotal battle in the construction phase of the Chinese space station,” Chen said at a press conference in Jiuquan on Saturday. The task will be more difficult, there will be more problems, and the challenges will be greater. “

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When complete, the T-shaped space station can accommodate up to 25 lab cabinets, each a small laboratory that can be used to conduct experiments. Wentian will be equipped to support life sciences research while Mengtian will focus on microgravity experiments.

Wentian will also contain an airlock cabin for extravehicular flights, as well as short-term accommodation for astronauts during crew rotation.

The space station is designed to be at least a decade old.

Its ability to accommodate only three astronauts for extended periods, compared to seven aboard the International Space Station, has not deterred China from extending invitations to foreign astronauts in its ambition to internationalize the space station.

The deputy designer of the space station told Chinese media last year that the three-module station could be expanded to four cross-shaped modules in the future.

International Space Station simulators, spacecrafts and modules launched by other countries are also welcome to join the Chinese station and become a long-term member of it. Human commercial spaceflights to the station are also being explored.

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(Reporting by Ryan Wu and Ella Kao) Editing by William Mallard and Muralikumar Anantharaman

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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