China Space Mission aims to become a major space power by launching its latest “Shenzhou-13 vessel” with the longest crewed mission (3 astronauts) to date.
The astronaut’s team is expected to spend six months at the Tiangong space station. The launch took place on Friday after midnight (1600 MT Friday) from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwestern China’s Gobi desert.
After the launch, the Chinese Space Mission Agency stated that the launch was a success and the astronauts were in good shape. The previous longest mission by China was for 3 months (90 days) and returned to Earth last September.
The Shenzhou-13 vessel carrying the 3 members completed its docking with the radial port of the space station in just less than 7 hours after the launch. The crew is on a mission to set up the equipment that is useful for the future construction and testing technology on the Tiangong station.
Astronauts on the Tiangong space station will have separate living spaces, exercise equipment and a communication centre for emails and video calls with ground control.
Crew members included in this China Space Mission
Mission commander Zhai Zhigang (aged 55) is a former pilot who performed the first spacewalk in 2008 for China. Zhigang also stated that the crew will undertake more complex spacewalks during their stay in space.
Wang Yaping (aged 41) is a military pilot and she is China’s second woman in space (in 2013). Now she is the first woman to visit the space station.
Ye Guangfu (aged 41) is a People’s Liberation Army pilot.
China Space Mission other programs
China launched its first solar exploration satellite into space, equipped with a telescope to observe changes in the Sun. This satellite was launched just before the Shenzhou-13 vessel’s launch.
China has been focusing heavily on its space programs. To remember, China is the second country to land its rover on Mars.
It is also the second nation to send probes to the Moon in 2019 by landing the Chang’e-4 robot on the far side of the Moon which is historic first. It put the first Chinese “taikonaut” in space in 2003.
Tiangong, meaning “heavenly palace”, is expected to operate for at least 10 years.
Earlier this year, its core module entered orbit with the expectation to be operational by 2022.
The completed station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station that orbited Earth from 1980 to 2001.
The latest mission is set to expand China’s technological boundary and verify the space station system’s capacity for a longer duration of human occupation.
The Chinese space agency is also planning a total of 11 missions to Tiangong by the end of the year 2022, including at least 2 more crewed launches that will deliver 2 lab modules to expand the 70-tonne station.
The International Space Station (ISS) is due for retirement after 2024, although the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said it could potentially remain functional beyond 2028.
China’s space ambitions were fuelled by a US ban on Chinese astronauts on the ISS. ISS is a collaboration among the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe and Japan.