China will launch a spacecraft Sunday to carry three astronauts to the core of its unfinished Chinese space station. They will live and work there for six months while construction progresses.
At 10:44 AM local time (0244 GMT), a Long March-2F rocket carrying Shenzhou-14 will launch from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, northwestern Gansu. A China Manned Space Agency official said that the launch was scheduled for Sunday.
Chen Dong, the mission commander, will be accompanied aboard Shenzhou by Liu Yang (meaning “Divine Vessel”) in Chinese.
Lin Xiqiang, an official of the agency, stated that “all preparations for launch are basically complete.”
Shenzhou-14 is the third of four crewed missions – and the seventh out of a total of 11 missions – required to complete the space station before the end of this year.
China started building its three-module space station with Tianhe’s launch in April 2021. This was the largest and most important of the station’s three modules.
Tianhe is slightly larger than a Metro bus and will be the living quarters for visiting astronauts when the T-shaped space station has been completed.
The remaining two modules, the laboratory cabins Wentian-14 and Mengtian, will be launched following Shenzhou-14.
Wentian will have a robotic arm and an airlock cabin to allow for travel outside the station. It also has living quarters for three additional astronauts during crew rotations.
The Shenzhou-14 crew will assist with the installation of Wentian, and Mengtian, and perform functional tests on both these modules.
The design lifespan of the space station is 10 years. It will weigh in at 180 tonnes and be slightly heavier than Russia’s Mir decommissioned station.