Home World Three astronauts took off for the Chinese space station on Sunday

Three astronauts took off for the Chinese space station on Sunday

Three astronauts took off for the Chinese space station on Sunday

Tiangong – “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese- is preparing to receive new guests… Three astronauts successfully took off on Sunday for the space station that Beijing is building in orbit.

The spacecraft for their Shenzhou-14 mission was powered by a Long March 2F rocket, which lifted off at 10:44 a.m. local time (0244 GMT) from the launch center of Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert (north-west). Public broadcaster CCTV broadcast live footage from the launch.

Six months on board

A quarter of an hour later, an official from the space agency responsible for manned flights (CMSA) announced the “success” of the launch. 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 its acronym CSS (for “Chinese space station” in English), it should be fully operational by the end of the year.

The crew includes notably Liu Yang, 43, who was the first Chinese woman in space (2012). She will be accompanied by Chen Dong (43) and Cai Xuzhe (46), who is making her first flight into space after 12 years of preparation.

Continue the construction of Tiangong

Main challenge for the crew of Shenzhou-14: receiving and installing two new laboratory modules, which will be docked at the station. They will be launched from Earth in July and October. These will considerably increase the volume and scale of the space station. “After successfully docking the modules, the crew will need to use a robotic arm to grab them, undocking them, rotate them 90 degrees, and dock them at another port,” said Chen Lan, analyst at Go Taikonauts.com. , specializing in the Chinese space program.

These crucial procedures will need to be performed in coordination with engineers on Earth. “China has never carried out such a complex operation before, which has only taken place on Mir and the International Space Station (ISS). It will be a real test for the crew and the equipment,” said Chen Lan.

Once these laboratory modules have been installed, the general structure of the station will have its final appearance, in the shape of a T. It will then be similar in size to the former Russian-Soviet Mir station. Its lifespan should be at least 10 years, even 15 years.

Towards the permanent occupation of Tiangong

The Shenzhou-14 crew will also perform spacewalks, conduct a series of experiments and maintain Tiangong.

New for this mission: for the first time, two Chinese crews will pass the baton in orbit in the station. Towards the end of their stay, before returning to Earth, the three Shenzhou-14 astronauts will in fact spend a few days in orbit with their three colleagues from the future Shenzhou-15 mission.

“With Shenzhou-14, Chinese manned spaceflight is moving to a new stage” with “the start of the station’s permanent occupation,” Jonathan McDowell, astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP. UNITED STATES. “In other words, from now on, the goal is for there to always be Chinese astronauts in space.”

China banned from the ISS

China has been pushed to build its own station en due to his exclusion from the ISS, because the United States forbids NASA any collaboration 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 feats, especially in recent years. At the beginning of 2019, it placed a machine on the far side of the Moon, a world first. In 2020, it brought back samples from the Moon and finalized Beidou, its satellite navigation system, a competitor to the American GPS.

In 2021, it landed a small robot on Mars and plans to send men to the Moon by 2030. In the longer term, China plans to offer space tourism, Zhou Jianping said in March, the conductor of the Chinese manned program.

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