Three Chinese astronauts - Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe - have arrived at China’s new space station, which is currently under construction. The three will stay at the station for six months, with the arrival of two new modules to be added to the station: one called Wentian, which will be launched in July, and another called Mengtian, which will be launched in October.
They will also carry out scientific experiments and check the equipment on the station, ready for it to start full operations once completed.
The three Shenzhou-14 astronauts were launched using a Long March-2F missile from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 22:44 ET (19:44 PT) on Saturday, June 4. According to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), the astronauts traveled for about seven hours before reaching the central module of the space station, Tianhe, and docking there in its radial port.
The astronauts’ boats joined the two cargo ships already docked at the station, Tianzhou-3 and Tianzhou-4. The docking used an automatic procedure at was completed at 5:42 am ET (2:42 am PT) on Sunday, June 5th.
The station, called Tiangong, which means “heavenly palace”, has been in operation for some time, with its first module being launched last year. It replaces the previous Tiangong-2 station, which burned in the atmosphere in 2019. Tiangong-2 was a small station, so the astronauts only spent a month there once. But the new station will be bigger, and a trio of astronauts have already spent six months there, preparing for the station’s operations.
The Wentian module that astronauts are waiting for in October includes crew spaces, according to space.com, so three new astronauts can join the current crew once the module is installed. This would be the Shenzhou-15 mission, which will be launched in December and will be the first time a crew has handed over the management of another station with both sets of astronauts on board for a few days.