Three astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft took off for a six-month mission to continue construction work on the Chinese Space Station, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.
Astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe will oversee the crucial construction phase, including the arrival of Tiangong’s two other models Wentian and Mengtian. They will also perform several space walks, install new equipment and conduct scientific experiments.
Two previous missions, the Shenzhou-12 and Shenzhou-13, also sent three astronauts to the station’s core module, which is called Tianhe, to continue work on China’s permanent orbiting space station.
The new Chinese Space Station is part of the country’s ambitious space program. Named Tiangong (‘Heavenly Palace’), the CSS will be a third of the size of the International Space Station (ISS), closer in dimension to Mir, the late Soviet space station which orbited the Earth between 1986 and 2001.
It is expected that the Chinese Space Station will be operational for approximately 10 years. However, experts have said that it could “last more than 15 years with appropriate maintenance and repairs”.
China began laying the foundation for the CSS launch a decade ago. In September 2011, the country launched a prototype space station called Tiangong-1 to continue improving its human spaceflight skills and test the technologies needed to assemble a large space station in low Earth orbit.