(ORDO NEWS) — China is preparing to launch a new three-person mission to complete work on its permanent orbiting space station, the China Manned Space Agency said.
The Shenzhou 14 crew will spend six months at Tiangong Station, during which they will oversee the addition of two laboratory modules to Tianhe’s main living space, launched in April 2021.
Their spacecraft is to launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert, the agency said. The Long March 2F rocket – the workhorse of the crewed spaceflight program – will provide propulsion.
Commander Chen Dong and astronauts Liu Yang and Cai Xiuzhe will assemble the three-module design, connecting it to the already existing Tianhe, Wentian and Mengtian, due to arrive in July and October. Another cargo ship, Tianzhou-3, remains docked at the station.
The arrival of the new modules “will bring more stability, more powerful functions, more complete equipment,” said Chen, 43, who was a member of the Shenzhou 11 mission in 2016.
Liu, 43, also an astronaut veteran, was the first female astronaut in China to reach space aboard the Shenzhou 9 in 2012. Tsai, 46, makes his first space trip.
The Chinese space program launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, becoming only the third country to do so on its own after the former Soviet Union and the United States.
China has landed robotic rovers on the moon and sent one to Mars last year. China has also returned lunar samples, and officials have discussed the possibility of a crewed trip to the moon.
Chen, Liu and Tsai will be joined by the crew of the upcoming Shenzhou 15 at the end of their mission for three to five days, marking the first time that six people are on board the station.
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