China sent a new crew of three to the Tiangong space station on Tuesday evening (US time) to replace three fellow “taikonauts” completing a six-month stay in space. It is the second transfer of such a crew since the Chinese established a permanent presence aboard the lab last June.
With veteran commander Jing Haipeng, 56, at the controls, flanked by Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao, the first non-military taikonaut or astronaut, the Shenzhou-16 crew blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center atop a Long March 2F missile on March 21. :31 a.m. EDT (9:31 a.m. Tuesday local time).
Jing is the first Chinese aviator to make four trips to space, while Gui, a professor at Peking University with a doctorate in aerospace engineering, is the first civilian taikonaut to reach orbit and the first to fly the Chinese space station visit.
The launch, China’s fifth piloted flight to Tiangong and the third since the start of the 24-hour staffing last June, was broadcast live on Chinese television and provided spectacular images of the rocket’s ascent to space and the interior of the rocket. taikonauts calmly watching the cockpit is displayed.
The 60-meter Long March 2F missile, equipped with four strap-on boosters for extra power, reached its planned preliminary trajectory about 10 minutes after launch and promptly released the Shenzhou-16 ferry ship to fly independently.
The capsule’s two solar panels then unfolded, clearing the way for a series of rendezvous missiles to be fired to overtake Tiangong station. Docking was expected about six hours after launch.
The launch raised the total number of people in orbit to a record 17, with three taikonauts already aboard Tiangong awaiting replacement and 11 crew aboard the International Space Station, operated by the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and Canada.
Four of the ISS pilots, members of a commercial crew consisting of retired astronaut Peggy Whitson, adventurer John Shoffner, and Saudi astronauts Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, plan to undock and return to space just after 11 a.m. Tuesday. earth with a landing in the Gulf of Mexico. pm EDT. By then, the Shenzhou-16 taikonauts are expected to be aboard Tiangong, along with Shenzhou-15 commander Fei Juniong, Deng Qinming and Zhang Lu, who.
After a brief transfer period to familiarize their replacements with the intricacies of life aboard the space station, Fei and his crewmates will detach and return to the Inner Mongolia landing to complete a six-month stay in space. to close.
Like NASA and its partners in the ISS program, China aims to keep its space station permanently manned by rotating teams of taikonauts. The crew of the Shenzhou-16 is the third crew in that series.
The Chinese space station consists of three large modules connected in a T-shaped configuration. Launched in April 2021, the Tianhe core module is the centerpiece of the complex, providing crew quarters, life support systems, communications, spacecraft controls, an airlock, and multiple docking ports.
The 450-ton International Space Station consists of 13 p
ressurized modules supplied by the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency and Japan. Construction began in 1998 and the lab has been permanently staffed since 2000 by overlapping crews of astronauts and cosmonauts.
The Tiangong station has a mass of about 100 tons and is about a third the size of the ISS. It has been permanently manned since June 2022 with the arrival of Shenzhou-14’s crew. Although smaller than the ISS, the Chinese laboratory is newer and equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, computers and instruments.
The ISS will be deorbited in 2030, making Tiangong the only government-operated space station in low Earth orbit. NASA is counting on commercial space stations operated by private companies to provide orbiting research capabilities, while the US agency aims for a return to the moon later this decade.
China plans to launch its own taikonauts to the moon starting in 2030, fueling the latest chapter in an ongoing superpower space race.
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