China’s space station Tiangong is under construction. As part of its latest development and expansion, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) plans to launch the third crewed mission to Tiangong. This will consist of three astronauts, as per a report. On May 29, the Long March 2F rocket was rolled out to the launchpad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. The rocket was on standby for over a year as an emergency measure in case it was needed.
The Long March rocket is 54 feet long and 13-feet in diameter and was transferred to the launchpad from the assembly building at 1500 meters. The rocket accompanies the Shenzhou-14 crew spacecraft. This is the third crewed mission since April 2021, when the first mission was launched.
China is banned from collaborating with the ISS (International Space Station), controlled by the US and Russia. The country thus needed its space station to further its ambitious space exploration projects. At the same time, the Chinese space station is expected to bring more collaboration from many other countries, including Germany, Switzerland and others.
The exact launch date and time has not been declared yet but it is expected that the mission will take place around June 5, according to Beijing time. The three astronauts are expected to stay aboard for at least six months from launching.
Earlier this month, Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft was docked with the core module of Tianhe, and this docking was done to prepare for the arrival of the Shenzhou 14 crew. Tianhe is the first core module of the low earth orbit Chinese space station, which was launched in May 2021. China aims to finish the space station construction by the end of this year. ‘Tianhe’ in Chinese means ‘Harmony of Heavens’.
Shenzhou 14 will dock with the nadir port of the Tianhe core module. The nadir port is the maneuver performed by the Shenzhou 13, a mission for six months and completed on April 16.
The three-member crew will receive two new modules in July and October. These modules are planned to be launched with the help of the Long March 5B rockets from Wenchang in South China. These new modules will dock with the forward port of the Tianhe core module.
Tiangong is designed to be in space for at least ten years, with a probability of expanding further. It could be extended to six modules and host international astronauts. Interestingly, China is also planning to make its space station available for tourists and open it for commercial missions.
However, the beginning of the operational mode of Tiangong will begin only after the completion of the Shenzhou-15 mission. The Shenzhou-15 mission is expected to be launched in December this year. This will enable the space station to host the three-member crew for six months.