China’s Next Space Station Crew Ready for Launch

China’s Next Space Station Crew Ready for Launch

China is set to launch its next space station crew, Shenzhou-13, for a six-month mission on the Tianhe core space station module. Launch is set for 12:23 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) tomorrow, October 15 (October 16, 12:23 am Beijing Time) from China’s Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert. [UPDATE, October 15 EDT: the launch was successful.]

The three person crew includes two men and a woman: veteran astronauts (or “taikonauts”) Zhai Zhigang and Wang Yaping and rookie Ye Guangfu.

Zhai flew on Shenzhou-7 in 2008 as a member of China’s first three-person crew and performed China’s first spacewalk, lasting 22 minutes. Wang was China’s second woman astronaut, spending 15 days on China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, in 2013.

Tianhe is the first of three modules that will comprise the China Space Station (CSS), also known as Tiangong-3. China’s first two space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, launched in 2011 and 2016, were quite small, just 8.5 Metric Tons (MT). Tianhe and the other two CSS modules, expected to launch next year, each are about 20 MT.

The Shenzhou-12 crew spent three months on Tianhe this summer, returning on September 17 EDT.  It was China’s first human spaceflight mission in five years. China launched its first astronaut into space in 2003, but has proceeded at a measured pace. Shenzhou-12 was only its seventh mission to carry a crew and three months was a new duration record. Shenzhou-13 is scheduled to double it.

The Shenzhou-12 crew performed two record-setting spacewalks for China, one was about 7 hours and another about 5 hours. Chinese officials said the Shenzhou-13 crew will perform two or three spacewalks.

Like the U.S.-Russian-Japanese-European-Canadian International Space Station (ISS) that has been permanently occupied by crews for almost 21 years, and Soviet/Russian space stations dating back to the mid 1970s (Salyut 6, Salyut 7 and Mir), Tianhe can be resupplied with cargo ships. Two are docked there now, Tianzhou-2 and Tianzhou-3.

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