China has announced a new manned spacecraft launch, which will carry three astronauts to the currently under-construction Chinese space station. The crew will live and work in the core module for six months as they continue the final stages of construction.
The crew will get there on board the Shenzhou-14 craft, carried by a Long March-2F rocket, a China Manned Space Agency official told a news conference. The Shenzhou-14 launch marks the third crewed mission, and the seventh of a total of 11 missions that will be carried out to complete the space station by year-end.
China began constructing its three-module space station in April 2021 with the launch of Tianhe – the first and biggest of the station’s three modules.
The crew will live in a module slightly larger than a bus once the T-shaped space station is completed. The remaining two modules – the laboratory cabins Wentian and Mengtian – will be launched in July and October, respectively.
Wentian will feature a robotic arm, an airlock cabin for trips outside the station, and living quarters for an additional three astronauts during crew rotations.
The Shenzhou-14 crew will help setup Wentian and Mengtian and conduct functionality tests on both modules.
The station will have a designed lifespan of a decade. At 180 tonnes, it will be slightly heavier than Russia’s decommissioned Mir, and about 20% of the mass of the International Space Station.