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China sends first crew to completed ‘heavenly palace’


China is sending a first crew of astronauts to its now complete space station. But in the long term, the country does not rule out extending it further.

That’s it: the Chinese space station Tiangong will be visited for the first time by a crew, without missing a module. The Shenzhou 15 mission has just left the Jiuquan launch base (in Inner Mongolia, in the Gobi desert, in the north of the country). It is the first that will not be followed by the short-term dispatch of a structure aimed at extending the station.

First departure to the Chinese station completed

The Shenzhou 15 mission took off on November 29, 2022 under optimal weather conditions – including good visibility, low wind and no clouds. the capsule, who is in transit to the station, was launched using a Long March 2F rocket. On board, three people (Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhan Lu), who will stay six months.

These three crew members will work alongside the members of Shenzhou 14 (Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang), who are still on board and whose return to Earth is scheduled for December 2022. there would not have been enough space, the development of Tiangong with the arrival of additional modules allows the reception of six individuals for a short time.

The Chinese station — artist’s impression. // Source: China News Service

China has completed the initial development of its space station, since it received its two additional modules in 2022: Wentian in July and Mengtian in October. Each of these plugins extends the capabilities of the basic module, Tianhe, with avionics, propulsion and survival systems, but also space and equipment for experiments.

It is not excluded that China decides to continue later the extension of its “heavenly palace”, poetic name given to the station with Tiangong. The structure is modular and we have been talking for a few months now about the possibility of adding up to three other modules, for a total of six. However, this may depend on the participation of other countries.

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Artist's impression of Chang'e 5. // Source: CGTN YouTube screenshot

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