China’s Shenzhou-16 spacecraft launched: What is the new mission about

On Tuesday (May 30), China launched a spaceship carrying three astronauts, including its first civilian, to its Tiangong space station. Since 2021, this is the country’s fifth manned flight to a fully working space station.

According to official media, the Shenzhou-16 spacecraft was launched at 9:31 a.m. from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert in northwest China on a Long March-2F rocket.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre Director Zou Lipeng said in a statement that the launch was a “complete success” and that the “astronauts are in good condition.”

Jing Haipeng, the mission’s senior commander, is on board, as are Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao, the first Chinese civilian to journey to space. So far, the Asian nation has also sent astronauts from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

While this is Jing’s fourth space voyage (he was a senior spacecraft pilot in China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s), it is Zhu and Gui’s first. Zhu is a postdoctoral fellow in aerodynamics, a former university teacher, and a spaceflight engineer, according to Xinhua News Agency. Meanwhile, Gui will serve as the mission’s payload specialist, overseeing science experiments at the space station.

The three astronauts will take the place of the Shenzhou-15 crew, who have been manning the Tiangong space station since November of last year.

For the following five months, the new crew will stay there and conduct “large-scale in-orbit tests and experiments in various fields as planned.” The study of unique quantum phenomena, high-precision space time-frequency systems, the confirmation of general relativity, and the genesis of life are among the high-level scientific advances they are anticipated to accomplish, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

The Tiangong space station, which is run by the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA), was constructed by China after the United States forbade NASA from cooperating with the Asian nation due to a significant risk of espionage. The first module of the permanently manned space station was launched into orbit in 2021, and two more modules were added to it in the years that followed.

China’s ambitious effort to realise its space goals is the Tiangong space station, which is anticipated to become the only in-orbit outpost for scientific study after the International Space Station’s activities are terminated in 2030. Its expansion has already been announced by the nation, and according to Reuters, “the next module is scheduled to dock with the current T-shaped space station to create a cross-shaped structure.”

China has also extended an invitation to other nations and businesses to join forces and conduct research aboard its space station. The government has three space missions for its space station application and development this year, CMSA told the media earlier this year.

These include the cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-6, which was launched earlier in May, and the second crewed spaceship Shenzhou-17 later in 2023, in addition to the launch of Shenzhou-16.

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