China on Saturday unveiled a three-member astronaut crew that will travel by the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft on a six-month mission to complete the construction of the country’s space station currently orbiting the earth. The Shenzhou-14 spacecraft carrying astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe will dock with the Tiangong space station currently under construction, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced on Saturday.
The Shenzhou-14 spaceship will be launched with a Long March-2F carrier rocket on Sunday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China.
Earlier, a three-member Chinese astronaut crew, which included a woman returned to the earth in April after spending a record six months building vital parts of the space station which was expected to be ready by this year.
They completed the verification of key technologies of its space station, according to the CMSA.
Once ready, China will be the only country to own a space station. The International Space Station (ISS) of Russia is a collaborative project of several countries.
China Space Station, (CSS) is also expected to be a competitor to the ISS built by Russia.
Observers say CSS may become the sole space station to remain in orbit once the ISS retires in the coming years.
Chen, who will be the commander of the new mission, participated in the Shenzhou-11 crewed spaceflight mission, Liu in the Shenzhou-9 mission and Cai is a newcomer to space, Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA, said at the press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre.
The trio will stay in orbit for six months, Lin said.
The Shenzhou-14 mission will complete the construction of the Tiangong space station, with a basic three-module structure consisting of the core module Tianhe and the lab modules Wentian and Mengtian.
The Shenzhou-14 mission will build the space station into a national space laboratory, Lin Xiqiang, the deputy director of the CMSA, was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
During their stay in orbit, the Shenzhou-14 crew will witness the two lab modules, Tianzhou-5 cargo craft and Shenzhou-15 crewed spaceship dock with the core module Tianhe.
They will rotate with the Shenzhou-15 crew in orbit, and return to the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in December, Lin said.
Shenzhou-14 will be the third of four crewed missions – and the seventh of a total of 11 missions – needed to complete the space station by the end of the year.
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.