China readies launchpad for final missions to complete Tiangong space station
China is preparing to launch its final series of missions to complete work on its homegrown Tiangong space station.
Over the weekend, Chinese state media reported that the China National Space Administration had moved its Shenzhou spacecraft to a launch site in inner Mongolia ahead of a planned launch on 5 June. The craft will be sent into space atop a Long March 2F carrier rocket.
The flight will mark the ninth crewed Chinese spaceflight and the fourteenth flight of the Shenzhou program. The spacecraft will carry three People's Liberation Army Astronaut Corps (PLAAC) 'taikonauts' on the third flight to the Tianhe core module, the first module of the Tiangong space station.
Tianhe was first launched into orbit in April last year, with three Chinese astronauts entering the module some months later.
Following the upcoming mission, China will launch one of the station’s lab components in July this year and the second in October.
State-run media outlet China Daily reported: “After the space labs, the Tianzhou 5 cargo craft and the Shenzhou XV crew are scheduled to arrive at the massive orbiting outpost around the end of the year.”
Once completed, the space station will be roughly one-fifth the mass of the International Space Station (ISS) and is intended to reside in low-Earth orbit for use in scientific experiments.
Currently, Tiangong consists of the Tianhe core module, the Tianzhou 3 and the Tianzhou 4. When connected to its first modules, 'Wentian' (aka 'Quest for the Heavens') and 'Mengtian' (aka 'Dreaming of the Heavens'), the space station will form a T-shaped structure.
President Xi Jinping has made considerable efforts to match the US with regards to its presence in the space.
Nasa currently plans to decommission the ISS in 2031 which would leave China as the only nation state operating a habitable module orbiting the Earth.
In April, the ISS welcomed aboard four new astronauts from Houston-based start-up Axiom Space, the first time an all-private astronaut team has flown to the orbiting outpost.
This was soon after the ISS became embroiled in more Earthly matters when Russian astronauts flew to the station wearing outfits in the colour of the Ukrainian flag – signifying tacit support for their country’s embattled neighbour.
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