Astronauts are returning to the Chinese space station

posted on Sunday 05.06.2022 at 15:46.

A “new step” in China’s conquest of space: three astronauts joined the “Heavenly Palace” on Sunday, a station Beijing is building in orbit and should now be permanently manned.

The spacecraft for their Shenzhou-14 mission was powered by the Long March 2F rocket, which launched at 10:44 local time (0244 GMT) from the Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi Desert (northwest). CCTV broadcast live footage from the launch.

After about “seven hours of flight”, the vessel first joined the space station, the CCTV said.

Then around 8:50 pm in Beijing (12:50 GMT), three astronauts entered the station’s main module, according to the space agency responsible for manned flights (CMSA).

Like the previous crew of the Shenzhou-13 mission, which returned in mid-April, the three astronauts, including a woman, are expected to stay on the space station for about six months.

Named in Chinese Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”), but also known by the acronym CSS (“Chinese Space Station”), it should be fully operational by the end of the year.

The crew is Liu Yang (43), who was the first Chinese woman in space (2012).

She is accompanied by Chen Dong (43) and Cai Xuzhe (46), who completes her first flight into space after 12 years of preparation.

The main challenge for the Shenzhou-14 crew: the receipt and installation of two new laboratory modules to be anchored at the station.

They will be released from Earth in July and October. This will significantly increase the volume and scale of the space station.

– Orbital Relays –

“After successfully anchoring the modules, the crew will have to use a robotic arm to grab them, disconnect them, rotate them 90 degrees, and dock in another port,” said Go analyst Chen Lan., Who specializes in Chinese space. program.

These essential procedures will need to be carried out in coordination with engineers on Earth.

“China has never conducted such a complex operation, which took place only on Mir and the International Space Station (ISS). It will be a real test for the crew and equipment,” Chen Lan said.

Once these laboratory modules are installed, the overall design of the station will have a final T-shape.

The size will then resemble the former Russian-Soviet station Mir. Its service life should be at least 10 years, if not 15 years.

The Shenzhou-14 crew will also ascend into space, conduct a series of experiments and maintain Tiangong.

A novelty of this mission: for the first time, two Chinese crews in orbit pass the baton at the station.

Towards the end of their stay, before returning to Earth, the three Shenzhou-14 astronauts will actually spend several days in orbit with their three colleagues from the future Shenzhou-15 mission.

– Permanent employment –

“With Shenzhou-14, Chinese manned spaceflight is taking a new step” and “the beginning of a permanent occupation of the station,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP.

“In other words, from now on, the goal is to always have Chinese astronauts in space.”

China has been forced to build its own station due to its exclusion from the ISS, as the United States bans NASA’s cooperation with Beijing.

The Asian giant has been investing billions of euros in its space program for several decades.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. Since then, it has achieved some remarkable achievements, especially in recent years.

At the beginning of 2019, it placed a machine on the other side of the moon, a world first. In 2020, he brought samples from the Moon and completed Beidou, its satellite navigation system, a competitor of the American GPS.

In 2021, she landed on Mars with a small robot and plans to send men to the moon by 2030.

In the long run, China plans to offer space tourism, Zhou Jianping, the conductor of China’s manned program, said in March.

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