China Launches New Space Station Crew

China Launches New Space Station Crew

China launched a new crew to the Tiangong-3 China Space Station this evening EDT. The three-man Shenzhou-17 crew will replace three others who have been aboard since May, continuing their new practice of rotating crews on roughly six-month schedules to keep the space station permanently occupied like the International Space Station.

Taikonauts Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin lifted off on Shenzhou-17 at 11:14 pm EDT (11:14 am October 26 Beijing Time) from the Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert.

Undated photo of Shenzhou-17 crew: Tang Hongbo, commander (Center), Tang Shengjie (Right) and Jiang Xinlin (Left). Credit: Xinhua

This is Tang Hongbo’s second trip to Tiangong-3. He was a member of the Shenzhou-12 crew, the first to board Tiangong-3, and is the first taikonaut to visit it twice. It’s quite a different place now, though. On his first trip only one module, Tianhe, was in orbit. Two more have been added since.

The other two crew members are rookies. China’s Xinhua news service says this crew is the “youngest lineup since the construction of China’s Tiangong space station started.” Tang Shengjie, born in December 1989, and Jiang, born in February 1988, both were selected in the September 2020 taikonaut group.

They are scheduled to dock in about 6.5 hours and be greeted by the Shenzhou-16 crew who will come home after a several day handover. [UPDATE: Docking took place at 09:46 UTC per Bob Christy @OrbitalFocus).

China provides very little information about what their crews do on the space station. Xinhua reports the Shenzhou-17 crew will conduct spacewalks, perform space science and application tests and experiments, and conduct maintenance and other tasks.

China’s first two space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, were quite small, about 8.5 Metric Tons. Tiangong-3, also called the China Space Station or CSS, is composed of three 22-MT modules (Tianhe, Mengtian and Wentian) and is resupplied by Tianzhou cargo spacecraft.

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