Beijing, Jun 16 (EFE).- China will put three astronauts into orbit Thursday on its first manned space mission since 2016 to participate in the fine-tuning work of the Tiangong space station, the country’s space agency told state news.
The launch of the Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft will take place from the Jiuquan satellite launch center in northwest China at 09:22 local time (01:22 GMT) on Thursday, state news Xinhua reported Wednesday.
The spacecraft will put astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo into orbit to “verify the main technologies to build and operate the Tiangong station,” said Ji Qiming, deputy director of the agency.
“All systems have passed the relevant tests, the crew is ready and all preparations are ready,” Ji was quoted as saying by Xinhua.
CMSA’s plan is for the Shenzhou-12 to dock with the Tianzhou-2 cargo ship and the Tianhe (“Heavenly Harmony” in Mandarin) central module, launched Apr. 29 to exercise control of Tiangong Station (“Heavenly Palace”), which should be ready to start operations by the end of 2022.
The astronauts aboard Shenzhou-12 will be stationed in that core module and will remain in orbit for three months.
The agency plans to carry out 11 launches – four of them manned – to bring another two modules to the Tiangong, which will weigh in total about 70 tons.
According to Xinhua, the space station will orbit the Earth at an altitude of between 340 and 450 kilometers, and is designed to last about 10 years, although experts cited by the agency said they are confident that with proper maintenance it can last more than 15 years.
The space station program has among its objectives to provide “a space laboratory that can be used for long stays for astronauts, as well as great experiments,” Bai Linhou, one of those responsible for the design of the Tianhe module, said in April.
Tomorrow’s launch will be carried out by a Long March-2F carrier rocket, Ji said.
The CMSA director added that astronaut Nie Haisheng already participated in the Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005 and Shenzhou-10 in 2013, while for Liu Boming it will be his second space flight after participating in the Shenzhou mission 7 in 2008.
It will be the first mission of its kind for the third astronaut, Tang Hongbo.
China has so far conducted six manned space missions, the last one between October and November 2016 with the two crew members of the Shenzhou-11 capsule, who conducted a series of experiments over a month in the Tiangong-2 orbiting laboratory. EFE