jiuquan For the first crew change since the Chinese space station “Tiangong” (Heaven’s Palace) was fully commissioned, three astronauts successfully launched into space. Carrying a Long March 2F rocket, their Shenzhou 16 (Magic Ship) spacecraft took off from Jiuquan Spaceport in northwest China’s Gobi Desert on Tuesday. The three astronauts are to replace their colleagues after half a year in space.
Just 18 minutes after launch, the director of the space center, Zou Lipeng, announced the “complete success” of the launch. Shenzhou 16 reached orbit as planned. The sun sails would also have opened without any problems.
Among the three astronauts is a civilian for the first time in Chinese space history, scientist Gui Haichao from Beijing Aerospace University. The 36-year-old should take care of experiments on board. All other Chinese astronauts previously came from the military.
The commander is 56-year-old space veteran Jing Haipeng. With his fourth space flight, the major general has more missions than any other Chinese astronaut. Flight engineer Zhu Yangzhu (36) is a newcomer to space alongside the scientist. “We get along as well as a family,” said the commander about the previous cooperation and their training.
Planned five months in space
The three astronauts are scheduled to stay in space for five months and will reside in the space station this week with the current crew of three. Current crew members Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu watched the launch of their colleagues in a live broadcast from the space station. They are expected to return to Earth on Saturday. However, the date has not been officially confirmed.
“Shenzhou 16” is already the fifth manned mission to the Chinese space station, which began regular operations earlier this year without much ado. In early May, a cargo flight had already brought supplies, food, spare parts and 600 kilograms of fuel into space to prepare for the stay of the three new astronauts.
China is pursuing an ambitious space program in order to quickly catch up with the large spacefaring nations of the USA and Russia. Only 20 years after China became only the third nation to send astronauts into space, the People’s Republic now operates a modern, fully functional space station and is exploring the moon and Mars. According to the head of the US space agency Nasa, Bill Nelson, the USA sees itself in a “space race” with China.
The state leadership in Beijing is concerned with national prestige, but also with the global technological pioneering role, which is to be contested by the USA. China also wants to bring astronauts to the moon for the first time by 2030, while the USA is planning a manned landing on the moon again from the end of 2025 with the “Artemis” project.
Manned station planned on moon
Both space nations are eyeing the lunar south pole, where frozen water is suspected. Going even further than the US, China is already planning to build a manned station on the moon. China also wants to work with other countries such as Russia.
Crew‑5 returned from Space Station ISS
The return flight took around 20 hours. Previously, the crew members had been aboard the space station for about five months.
© Source: Reuters
The “Heaven’s Palace” weighs around 100 tons and is the only outpost in space next to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS, which has been in permanent operation since 2000, is four times larger, but showing its age. Nevertheless, the USA, Europe and Japan want to continue operating the space station until 2030 – and thus much longer than originally planned. The US Congress had rejected China’s participation in the ISS for security reasons.
China’s space program highlighted that China will welcome foreign astronauts to its space station in the future. There are cooperation projects with the UN Space Office, the European Space Agency ESA and emerging space nations, among others. China is also developing a reusable spacecraft for future space travel.