China has confirmed that it successfully launched a rocket carrying a trio of astronauts on Thursday. The launch placed the crewed spacecraft known as Shenzhou-12 carrying three astronauts into orbit. The crew is expected to spend 90 days living aboard the Tianhe core space station module already in orbit.
China’s launch on Thursday is its seventh mission to put a crew in space and the first to come during the construction of China’s space station. The launch is also the first crewed mission that China has conducted in nearly half a decade. China used its Long March-2F rocket to push the capsule carrying the astronauts into space.
The launch was conducted at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Chinese Gobi desert at 9:22 AM Beijing time. Astronauts aboard the capsule include commander Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo. Haisheng and Boming have been into space before while Hongbo is on his first mission. The trio is expected to set a new record for duration in space for Chinese astronauts by exceeding the 33 days that crewmembers aboard the Shenzhou-11 spent in orbit in 2016.
The spacecraft the astronauts are traveling aboard will conduct a fast autonomous rendezvous and docking with the Tianhe core module already in orbit. Once docked, the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft will form a complex with the core space station module and the cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-2. While in orbit, the crew will complete a quartet of significant tasks, according to Chinese authorities.
Their first task will include operating and managing the complex, including testing the Tianhe while in orbit. The crew will also verify the recycling and life-support systems while testing and training to use the space station’s robotic arm. The crew will also manage materials and waste.
Their second major task will be to move, assemble, and test spacesuits while performing two extravehicular activities, including building an extra vehicle toolbox, lifting the space station’s panoramic camera, and installing extended pump sets. Astronauts will also conduct experiments aboard the space station for their third task.
The fourth task is to manage their health via physical exercise and regular monitoring and assessment of their health. Chinese authorities say that more than 160 large and small packages, including supplies for the astronauts and science equipment, were delivered to the space station in late May. The construction of China’s space station is expected to complete in 2022.