China launches 3 astronauts to complete space station construction

Beijing, June 5 (IANS) China on Sunday sent three astronauts on spaceship Shenzhou-14 to its space station for a six-month mission.

The trio — commander Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe — will cooperate with the ground team to complete the assembly and construction of the Tiangong space station, Xinhua news agency reported.

The astronauts will develop the space station from a single-module structure into a national space laboratory with three modules — the core module Tianhe and two lab modules Wentian and Mengtian.

The spaceship, atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket, was lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 10:44 a.m., according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

About 577 seconds after the launch, Shenzhou-14 separated from the rocket and entered its designated orbit. The crew members are in good shape and the launch is a complete success, the CMSA declared.

The crew will work with the ground team to complete the rendezvous, docking and transposition of the two lab modules with the core module, said Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA, at a press conference Saturday.

The Tianhe core module was launched in April 2021, and the Wentian lab module is set to be launched in July and Mengtian in October.

The Shenzhou-14 crew will also witness, during their stay in orbit, the Tianzhou-5 cargo craft and Shenzhou-15 crewed spaceship dock with the core module.

Then, they will live and work together with the Shenzhou-15 crew for multiple days before returning to Earth in December, the report said.

Launched in April 2021, Tianhe is a 16.6 metres space station core module. The completed Tiangong station will be about 20 per cent as massive as the International Space Station, according to Chinese space officials.