HELSINKI — China is preparing to launch three astronauts to its Tiangong space station to oversee a crucial phase of the orbital outpost construction.
The Long March 2F rocket was rolled out to the platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert early May 29. than 30 meters per minute.
The Shenzhou-14 launch vehicle and spacecraft and crew had been vertically assembled at the site for more than 280 days and stored while on standby in the event of an emergency on the space station.
The Long March 2F and Shenzhou combination has a telltale solid escape system for launching a motor on top of the payload fairing.
A time and date for the launch has not been announced publicly, but the launch is expected around June 5 Beijing time.
Earlier this month the Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft docked with the core module of the Tianhe space station, with supplies in preparation for the arrival of the Shenzhou-14 crew.
Shenzhou-14 will dock with the nadir gate of the Tianhe module, a maneuver performed by Shenzhou-13completed a six month mission April 16†
The three astronauts, whose identities have yet to be revealed, are expected to remain on board the 16.6-meter-long Tianhe core module with a diameter of 4.2 meters for about six months.
The crew will receive two new 20-metric-ton-plus modules, Wentian and Mengtian, in July and October, Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) revealed at a press conference in April.
The modules will be launched on Long March 5B rockets from Wenchang, southern China. Jiuquan is the only launch site capable of manned missions in China, with the space station’s 41.5-degree orbital inclination chosen to allow manned launch from Jiuquan.
The new modules will be linked to the forward gate of Tianhe. The crew will work with ground control to convert the new modules to radial docking ports using a large robotic arm.
Wentian (“Quest for the Heavens”), will feature a new airlock for extravehicular activities, a small robotic arm, and additional living areas that allow for crew transfers. The first of these will be undertaken when the Shenzhou-14 crew greets Shenzhou-15, which is expected to be launched in December. Tiangong will then house six astronauts over a period of days.
The new airlock cabin in Wentian will be the main departure point for extravehicular activities (EVAs) once they are up and running. The crews of Shenzhou-12 and 13 have so far used Tianhe docking hub for: EVA getting in and out.
The Shenzhou-14 crew will conduct EVAs, conduct a series of experiments, and engage in scientific popularization and outreach activities.
The payload of the Tianzhou-4 mainly consists of supplies for the Shenzhou-14 astronauts, but also includes space station maintenance equipment, space science experiment equipment, and a refrigerator for space science and medical experiments. It also contains a series of seeds that are exposed to radiation in low Earth orbit and later analyzed and used back on Earth.
The first module for Tiangong, the core module of Tianhe, was: launched in April 2021. Since then, it has received three cargo and two manned missions.
Tiangong will enter its operational period with the completion of the Shenzhou-15 mission and receive three crew members for periods of six months at a time. Newly selected payload specialists and other civilian astronauts will then be eligible to fly to the station.
Tiangong is designed to work in orbit for at least ten years. It could be expanded to six modules and accommodate international astronauts.
China is also considering making the station available to: tourist visits and will open Tiangong to commercial missions†