(ORDO NEWS) — On Tuesday, China launched a rocket carrying three taikonauts to complete construction of the country’s permanent orbital space station.
The spacecraft was launched on a Long March 2F launch vehicle from the Jiuquan Cosmodrome on the edge of the Gobi Desert. This six-month mission will be the last in the construction phase of the station.
The mission commander was Fei Junlong, 57, who participated in the 2005 Shenzhou-6 mission. The crew also includes Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, who will make their first space flights.
After the Shenzhou-15 spacecraft automatically docks with the Tianhe module, the station will be expanded to its maximum size, three modules and three spacecraft will be attached to it, with a total mass of almost 100 tons.
Tiangong has space for six people at a time, and it will take about a week to hand over the cases.
Previous flights to the space station took about 13 hours from launch to docking.
China has not yet said what further work is needed to complete the station.
Next year, China plans to launch the Xuntian Space Telescope, which, although not part of Tiangong, will orbit in series with the station and be able to occasionally dock with it for maintenance.
With a service life of 10 to 15 years, Tiangong could one day become the only operational space station if the International Space Station retires in the coming years as planned.
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