BEIJING: On Wednesday, Chinese astronauts arrived in Tiangong space stationChina’s state news agency Xinhua reported that they had completed the country’s first ever crew delivery into orbit.
The three took off aboard a Long March-2F rocket at 11:08 p.m. (1508 GMT) from the Jiuquan Launch Center in northwest China’s Gobi Desert, Xinhua said, citing the China Manned Space Administration.
The ship — carrying veteran Fei Junlong and first-time astronauts Ding Qingming and Zhang Lu — successfully The station was docked early Wednesday, the agency said, according to Xinhua News Agency.
They then joined three other astronauts who have been aboard the Tiangong space station since early June.
Fei, 57, returned to space after 17 years, having commanded the Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005.
The main responsibilities of the mission are to “achieve the first in-orbit delivery of the crew, install … equipment and facilities inside and outside the space station, and carry out science experiments,” said Ji Qiming, a CMSA spokesman.
“During the stay, the Shenzhou-15 crew will welcome the visiting Tianzhou-6 cargo ship and hand over (operations) to the Shenzhou-16 manned spacecraft, and plan to return to China’s Dongfeng landing site in May next year.
The Tiangong space station is the crown jewel of Beijing’s ambitious space program – which has landed robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon, and made the country the third country to put humans into orbit – as it looks to catch up with the United States and Russia.
State media said the final unit in Tiangong was successfully laid out with basic structure earlier this month — a major step in its completion by the end of the year.
“I expect China to announce the completion of construction during or at the end of the Shenzhou-15 mission,” said Chen Lan, an independent Chinese space analyst.
China has been excluded from the International Space Station since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from doing business with the country.
Once complete, the Tiangong space station is expected to have a mass of 90 tons — about a quarter of the International Space Station — or similar in size to the Soviet-built Mir station that orbited Earth from the 1980s until 2001.
Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace,” will operate for about a decade and host a variety of experiences in near zero gravity.
Next year, Beijing plans to launch the Xuntian Space Telescope with a field of view 350 times that of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.