A Long March-2F rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft was launched on Thursday morning from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
About 573 seconds after the liftoff, the spaceship separated from the rocket and entered its planned orbit. The launch center declared the launch a success.
The crewed spaceship is scheduled to fly to the Tianhe core module of China’s space station, and conduct rendezvous and docking in a fast automated mode onto its front port.
Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are part of the mission, with Nie serving as the commander. Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu are the backup crew.
Born in September, 1964, Nie is one of the oldest humans to travel in space. He flew two space missions in 2005 and 2013. Liu previously took part in the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008. Tang, the youngest astronaut on the mission, is on his first space flight. Each of them has trained more than 6,000 hours for space station technology, extravehicular activities, robotic arm control, psychology and in-orbit work and life.
The trio is expected to stay in space for three months to finish multiple tasks including helping assemble the space station, conducting extravehicular activities and in-orbit maintenance, and checking a regenerative life support system.
“Compared to previous space station missions, this mission will be longer and more challenging. We need to build the core modules and conduct a series of pivotal technology tests,” Nie told reporters at the conference held on Wednesday.
The Tianhe core module, equipped with three independent bedrooms and one toilet, provides three times as much space for astronauts as the Tiangong-2 Space Laboratory. More than 120 types of space food with balanced nutrition and long shelf life have been prepared for them. The exercise area is equipped with a treadmill and a bicycle. Video calls and e-mails between the space station and the earth will be available. The regenerative life support system in the core module will serve to ensure astronauts can stay in orbit for a long time.
Hou Yongqing, the deputy chief designer of the space station system of the Fifth Academy of Aerospace Science and Technology Group, said, “China’s Space Station is expected to operate in orbit for at least 10 years. We have carried out numerous tests to ensure its long life, reliability, maintainability and safety from the beginning of design.”
China’s space launches drew intense international attention last month after remnants of the rocket that carried the Tianhe module into space fell back to Earth with no official forecast of their expected landing location until literally the final minutes, Reuters reported.
Speaking about the probability of damage to the ground caused by the debris of the upper stage of the manned spacecraft, Ji Qiming, director assistant of the CMSA, said on Wednesday, “The possibility is extremely low because most components of the upper stage of spacecraft will be ablated and destroyed on re-entry into the atmosphere.”
China has made space exploration a priority, with the goal of becoming a major space power by 2030. The Shenzhou-12 will be the third of 11 missions planned for the construction phase of the three-module space station between 2021 and 2022.
The Tianzhou-3 cargo spacecraft and Shenzhou-13 crewed mission will follow in September and October respectively. Two experimental modules named Wentian and Mengtian are expected to launch in 2022. The Zhurong rover, named after the Chinese god of fire, successfully landed on Mars in May, making China the second country to succeed in the task.
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Many countries and regions have expressed their willingness to cooperate with China on space exploration. Since 2016, Beijing has carried out cooperation with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, soliciting cooperative experimental projects from all UN member states. 9 projects from 17 countries have been selected. China is also conducting bilateral exchanges with France, Italy, Pakistan and other countries to carry out space experiments in basic physics, space medicine, etc.