BEIJING — Three Chinese language astronauts docked early Wednesday with their nation’s house station, the place they are going to overlap for a number of days with the three-member crew already onboard and increase the ability to its most measurement.
Docking with the Tiangong station got here at 5:42 a.m. Wednesday (4:42 p.m. Tuesday ET), about 6 1/2 hours after the Shenzhou-15 spaceship blasted off atop a Lengthy March-2F provider rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite tv for pc Launch Middle on Tuesday evening.
The six-month mission, commanded by Fei Junlong and crewed by Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, would be the final within the station’s building part, in line with the China Manned House Company. The station’s third and ultimate module docked with the station a month in the past, one of many final steps in China’s effort to keep up a relentless crewed presence in orbit.
The crew of the Shenzhou-15 will spend a number of days working with the present 3-member crew of the Tiangong station, who will then return to Earth after their six-month mission.
Fei, 57, is a veteran of the 2005 four-day Shenzhou-6 mission, the second time China despatched a human into house. Deng and Zhang are making their first house flights.
The station has now expanded to its most measurement, with three modules and three spacecraft connected for a complete mass of practically 100 tons.
Tiangong can accommodate six astronauts at a time and the handover will take a few week. That marks the station’s first in-orbit crew rotation.
China has not but stated what additional work is required to finish the station. Subsequent yr, it plans to launch the Xuntian house telescope, which, whereas not a part of Tiangong, will orbit in sequence with the station and might dock sometimes with it for upkeep.
With out the connected spacecraft, the Chinese language station weighs about 66 tons — a fraction of the Worldwide House Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs round 465 tons.
With a lifespan of 10 to fifteen years, Tiangong may at some point be the one house station nonetheless up and operating if the Worldwide House Station retires within the coming years as deliberate.
Whereas China’s crewed house program is formally three a long time previous this yr, it actually obtained underway in 2003, when China grew to become solely the third nation after the U.S. and Russia to place a human into house utilizing its personal sources.
This system is run by the ruling Communist Get together’s navy wing, the Folks’s Liberation Military, and has proceeded nearly solely with out exterior help. The U.S. excluded China from the Worldwide House Station due to its program’s navy ties, though China has engaged in restricted cooperation with different nations’ house companies.
China has additionally chalked up uncrewed mission successes: Its Yutu 2 rover was the primary to discover the little-known far facet of the moon.
China’s Chang’e 5 probe additionally returned lunar rocks to Earth in December 2020 for the primary time because the Nineteen Seventies, and one other Chinese language rover is trying to find proof of life on Mars.
Officers are reportedly contemplating an eventual crewed mission to the moon, though no timeline has been supplied, whilst NASA presses forward with its Artemis lunar exploration program that goals to ship 4 astronauts across the moon in 2024 and land people there as early as 2025.
Whereas continuing easily for essentially the most half, China’s house program has additionally drawn controversy. Beijing dismissed complaints that it has allowed rocket phases to fall to Earth uncontrolled after NASA accused it of “failing to fulfill accountable requirements relating to their house particles.” In that case, elements of a Chinese language rocket landed within the Indian Ocean.
China can be reportedly growing a extremely secret house airplane and its rising house capabilities function within the newest Pentagon protection technique, which stated this system was a element of China’s “holistic method to joint warfare.”