Three Chinese astronauts arrived at China’s Tiangong space station on Wednesday for their first in-orbit crew change-over.
Their spacecraft, Shenzhou-15, lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on Tuesday, docking with the station – one of just two inhabited outposts in low-Earth orbit alongside the NASA-led International Space Station – more than six hours later.
The Shenzhou-14 crew, who arrived in early June, will return to Earth after a one-week handover that will establish the station’s ability to temporarily sustain six astronauts, another record for China’s space programme.
The “Celestial Palace” is the culmination of nearly two decades of Chinese-crewed missions to space.
China’s manned space flights began in 2003 when a former fighter pilot, Yang Liwei, was sent into orbit in a small bronze-coloured capsule, the Shenzhou-5, and became China’s first man in space.
Astronauts at the space station are expected to conduct more than 1,000 scientific experiments – from studying how plants adapt in space to how fluids behave in microgravity.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara