Astronauts return to the Chinese space station

Posted on Sunday, June 5, 2022 at 3:46 pm

‘New step’ in China’s space conquest: Three astronauts joined Sunday’s ‘Heavenly Palace’, the station Beijing is building in orbit that should now be permanently occupied.

The spacecraft for their Shenzhou-14 mission was powered by a Long March 2F rocket, which lifted off at 10:44 a.m. local time (0244 GMT) from the Jiuquan Launch Center in the Gobi Desert (northwest). CCTV broadcast live images of the launch.

CCTV said that after about “seven hours of flight,” the craft first docked with the space station.

Then at about 8:50 p.m. in Beijing (12:50 p.m. GMT), the three astronauts entered the station’s main unit, according to the space agency responsible for manned flights (CMSA).

Like the previous crew of the Shenzhou-13 mission, which returned in mid-April, the three astronauts, including a woman, are expected to stay on the space station for about six months.

Named in Chinese Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) but also known by its acronym CSS (meaning “Chinese Space Station” in English), it should be fully operational by the end of the year.

The crew includes Liu Yang, 43, who was the first Chinese woman in space (2012).

She is accompanied by Chen Dong, 43, and Kai Zhuzhi, 46, who is making her first flight into space after 12 years of preparation.

The main challenge for the Shenzhou-14 crew: the receipt and installation of two new laboratory units, which will be moored at the station.

It will be launched from Earth in July and October. The latter will significantly increase the size and scale of the space station.

– Relay in orbit –

“After the modules are successfully docked, the crew will need to use a robotic arm to grab and unwind them, rotate them 90 degrees and dock them at another port,” says Chen Lan, an analyst at Go Taikonauts.com who specializes in Chinese aerospace. a program.

These critical actions must be carried out in coordination with the engineers on the ground.

“China has never done such a complex operation before, which was only done at Mir and the International Space Station (ISS). It will be a real test for the crew and equipment,” said Qin Lan.

Once these laboratory units are installed, the overall structure of the station will appear definitively, in the form of a T.

It will then be similar in size to the former Russian Soviet Mir station. Its life span should be at least 10 years, up to 15 years.

The Shenzhou-14 crew will also conduct a spacewalk, conduct a series of experiments and conserve Tiangong.

New to this mission: For the first time, two Chinese crews will pass the baton in orbit at the station.

Towards the end of their stay, before returning to Earth, the three Shenzhou-14 astronauts will actually spend a few days in orbit with their three colleagues on the future Shenzhou-15 mission.

– permanent occupation –

“Avec Shenzhou-14, les vols spatiaux habités chinois passent une nouvelle étape” avec “le début de l’occupation permanente de la station”, déclare à l’AFP Jonathan McDowell, astronome au Center Harvard-Smithsonian pour l’astroque, aux United State.

“In other words, from now on, the goal is to always have Chinese astronauts in space.”

China has been pushed to build its own station due to its exclusion from the International Space Station, as the United States prevents NASA from cooperating with Beijing.

The Asian giant has invested billions of euros in its space program for several decades.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003. Since then, it has made some remarkable achievements, especially in recent years.

At the beginning of 2019, it placed a device on the far side of the moon, for the first time in the world. In 2020, it returned samples from the Moon and completed the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, a competitor to the US Global Positioning System (GPS).

In 2021, it has landed a small robot on Mars and plans to send men to the Moon by 2030.

Zhou Jianping, the leader of the Chinese manned program, said in March that China plans in the long term to introduce space tourism.

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