China sends three astronauts to finish construction of space station

China sends three astronauts to finish construction of its OWN space station after United States excluded Chinese astronauts from the ISS in 2011

  • The trio blasted off in a Long March-2F rocket in the early hours of the morning
  • They will spend six months completing the build of the Tiangong space station 
  • Tiangong, or ‘heavenly palace,’ should become fully operational by year’s end
  • China has poured billions into its military-run space programme in recent years
  • It aims to launch a manned mission to the lunar surface by the end of the decade 
  • Beijing built its own orbital habitat after Chinese astronauts were banned from the International Space Station in 2011 

China on Sunday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts on a mission to complete the construction of its new space station, the latest milestone in Beijing’s drive to become a major space power.

The trio blasted off in a Long March-2F rocket in the early hours of the morning from the Jiuquan launch centre in northwestern China’s Gobi desert and will spend six months on the Tiangong station.

Tiangong, which means ‘heavenly palace,’ is expected to become fully operational by the end of the year and will represent the only habitable space station in orbit besides the International Space Station.

The Shenzhou-14 crew is tasked with ‘completing in-orbit assembly and construction of the space station,’ as well as ‘commissioning of equipment’ and conducting scientific experiments, state-run CGTN said Saturday.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme in recent years, with hopes of having a permanently crewed space station by 2022 and sending humans to the Moon by the end of the decade.

The decision to construct its very own space station without international co-operation came after the US banned NASA from engaging with Chinese astronauts in 2011, excluding Beijing from the International Space Station (ISS). 

The rocket carrying the Shenzhou-14 mission With three Chinese astronauts lifts off at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwestern China’s Gansu Province on June 5, 2022

Chinese astronaut Chen Dong, right, waves as he walks ahead of fellow astronauts Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe during a sendoff ceremony for the Shenzhou-14 crewed space mission to the Tiangong space station

This screen grab made from video released by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV shows Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang stepping outside China’s Tiangong space station in orbit around Earth on November 7, 2021

Led by air force pilot and longtime astronaut Chen Dong, 43, the three-person crew’s main challenge will be connecting the station’s two lab modules to the main Tianhe living space to complete the station.

Dong, along with fellow pilots Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe, will become the second crew to spend six months aboard the Tiangong after the last returned to earth in April following 183 days on the space station.

Liu, 43, is also a space veteran and was China’s first female astronaut to reach space aboard the Shenzhou-9 mission in 2012. Cai, 46, is making his first trip to the cosmos.

Tiangong’s core module entered orbit in April 2021 and is expected to operate for at least a decade.

The completed station will be similar to the Soviet Mir station that orbited Earth from the 1980s until 2001, measuring just over 100 square metres in size.

The arrival of the new modules will ‘provide more stability, more powerful functions, more complete equipment,’ said Chen, who was a member of the Shenzhou-11 mission in 2016, at a press conference Saturday. 

The world’s second-largest economy has made large strides in catching up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have decades of experience in space exploration.

But under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s plans for its heavily promoted ‘space dream’ have been put into overdrive.

Beijing’s heavily promoted space programme has already seen the nation land a rover on Mars and send probes to the Moon.

China is also planning to build a lunar base, and the country’s National Space Administration said it aims to launch a manned Moon mission by 2029.

Chinese astronauts Cai Xuzhe (L), Chen Dong (C) and Liu Yang pose during a ceremony prior to the launch at the Shenzhou-14 mission

The Long March 2F rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-14 crew, is pictured seconds after blast-off

This image shows a 3-D computer render of the Tiangong space station

China has been excluded from the ISS since 2011, when the United States banned NASA from engaging with the country.

The eastern superpower’s space program is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing – the People’s Liberation Army.

While China does not plan to use its space station for global cooperation on the scale of the ISS, Beijing has said it is open to foreign collaboration.

The ISS is due for retirement after 2024, although NASA has said it could remain functional until 2030.

If the ISS is decommissioned later this decade, the Tiangong space station will become the only habitable environment orbiting the Earth. 

The launch of the Shenzhou-14 crew this morning comes as NASA’s ‘CAPSTONE’ spacecraft mission prepares to blast off later this month. 

The Capstone craft, which is around the size of a microwave oven and weighs just 55 pounds, will blast off from the Māhia Peninsula in New Zealand some time between June 13-22. 

It will test the stability of a halo-shaped orbit around the moon to gather data for the Lunar Gateway, NASA’s planned lunar outpost.

Lunar Gateway will one day serve as a ‘staging area’ for landing humans on the moon and potentially as a jumping point for missions to Mars. 

Pictured is an artist’s impression of CAPSTONE in orbit around the moon with the Earth in the background. The spacecraft is set to launch this month, sometime between June 13 and 22

NASA is going to miss its moon landing target date by ‘several YEARS,’ watchdog report says 

A report from NASA’s inspector general said the U.S. space agency will miss its target for landing humans on the moon in late 2024 by ‘several years,’ just days after it pushed back its initial target date to 2025, citing cost overruns and lawsuits.

‘Given the time needed to develop and fully test the HLS and new spacesuits, we project NASA will exceed its current timetable for landing humans on the Moon in late 2024 by several years,’ the IG wrote in its report. 

The report also notes that NASA is not properly estimating all costs for the Artemis programme and could spend as much as $93 billion between fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2025, when taking into account the $25 billion needed for missions beyond Artemis III.  

‘Without capturing, accurately reporting, and reducing the cost of future [Space Launch System]/Orion missions, the Agency will face significant challenges to sustaining its Artemis programme in its current configuration,’ the report added.   

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