China on Sunday launched a new three-person mission to complete assembly work on its permanent orbiting space station.
The Shenzhou-14 crew will spend six months on the Tiangong station, during which they will oversee the addition of two laboratory modules to join the main Tianhe living space that was launched in April 2021.
Their spaceship blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on the edge of the Gobi Desert at 10:44am atop the crewed space flight programme’s workhorse Long March 2F rocket.
About 10 minutes after the launch, Shenzhou-14 separated from the rocket and entered its designated orbit.
The crew members are in good shape and the launch is a complete success, the China Manned Space Agency declared.
The launch was broadcast live on state television.
Commander Chen Dong and fellow astronauts Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe will assemble the three-module structure joining the existing Tianhe with Wentian and Mengtian, due to arrive in July and October.
Another cargo craft, the Tianzhou-3, remains docked with the station.
The arrival of the new modules will “provide more stability, more powerful functions, more complete equipment,” said Chen, 43, who was a member of the Shenzhou-11 mission in 2016, at a press conference on Saturday.
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 space trip.
Chen, Liu and Cai will be joined at the end of their mission for three to five days by the crew of the upcoming Shenzhou-15, marking the first time the station will have had six people aboard. (AP, with additional reporting by Xinhua)
Last updated: 2022-06-05 HKT 12:31