China on Sunday launched a spacecraft carrying three astronauts to the Chinese space station, which is due to be completed by the end of the year as construction entered a crucial phase.
A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-14, or “Divine Vessel” in Chinese, was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China at 10:44 a.m. (0244 GMT), a live broadcast by state television.
Construction of the space station began last year with the launch of the first and largest of its three modules – Tianhe – the living quarters of visiting astronauts. The Wentian and Mengtian modules will be launched in July and October respectively, and will link with Tianhe to form a T-shaped structure.
Shenzhou-14 mission commander Chen Dong, 43, and teammates Liu Yang, 43, and Cai Xuzhe, 46, all from China’s second cohort of astronauts, will live and work on the space station for six months before returning to Earth in December with the arrival of the Shenzhou-15 crew.
Former Air Force pilot Chen with Liu, who became China’s first female astronaut in space a decade ago, and space mission debutant Cai, will oversee the rendezvous, docking and integration of Wentian and Mengtian with the core module.
They will also install equipment inside and outside the space station and conduct a range of scientific research.
“The Shenzhou-14 mission is a crucial battle in the construction phase of the Chinese space station,” Chen told a news conference in Jiuquan on Saturday. “The task will be harder, there will be more problems and the challenges will be greater.”
The space station is designed for a lifespan of at least ten years.
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