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Crew ready for launch of Shenzhou XV mission

By ZHAO LEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-11-29 07:14
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Members of the Shenzhou XV space mission — Fei Junlong (center), Deng Qingming (right) and Zhang Lu — meet the media on Monday during a news conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China. WANG JIANGBO/FOR CHINA DAILY

China will launch three astronauts in the Shenzhou XV mission to the country's space station on Tuesday night, a space program official announced on Monday.

Ji Qiming, assistant director of the China Manned Space Agency, said at a news conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China that the crew members — Major General Fei Junlong, Senior Colonel Deng Qingming and Senior Colonel Zhang Lu — are scheduled to be on board the Shenzhou XV spacecraft that will be lifted by a Long March 2F carrier rocket at 11:08 pm from the Jiuquan center in the barren Gobi Desert.

The Long March 2F rocket started being filled with propellants at the service tower on Monday morning.

After the Shenzhou XV spacecraft enters orbit, it will activate the rapid rendezvous-docking mode to approach and connect with the Tianhe core module, according to the official.

The Shenzhou XV crew will stay inside the Tiangong space station for six months and is scheduled to return to Earth in May. They will carry out three to four spacewalks during the mission to mount equipment outside the station, he said.

In addition to spacewalks, their major tasks also include unlocking, installing and testing 15 scientific cabinets, conducting more than 40 scientific experiments and technological demonstrations, and carrying out six cargo orbital deployment operations, Ji said.

Fei's team will make the first in-orbit handover with the three Shenzhou XIV crew members, who have been orbiting Earth for nearly six months.

Their arrival will mark the first time that as many as six Chinese people are traveling in space at the same time. There have been at most three Chinese astronauts in space at a time.

The Shenzhou XIV astronauts are expected to return to a landing site in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region within a week of the Shenzhou XV crew's arrival, the official noted.

Senior Colonel Chen Dong, the Shenzhou XIV mission commander, now holds the record for the longest in-orbit time of Chinese astronaut after spending a total of 209 days in space on two space missions.

The crew of the Shenzhou XV mission, China's 10th manned spaceflight, will become the fourth group of visitors to the Tiangong station that has been traveling in a 400-kilometer low-Earth orbit since last April.

Over the past four months, two massive space lab modules were launched to become parts of Tiangong. The arrival in late October of the second lab module, Mengtian, the world's largest single-body spacecraft now in active service, marked the completion of the space station's in-orbit assembly.

Currently, the Tiangong station consists of the Tianhe core module, the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, the Shenzhou XIV spacecraft and the recently docked Tianzhou 5 cargo ship.

With an overall weight of nearly 100 metric tons, Tiangong is one of the largest items of space-based infrastructure mankind has ever built and deployed in outer space. It is expected to operate in its low-Earth orbit for about 10 years and will be open to foreign astronauts in the near future, space officials have said.

Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the space agency, said that in the near future China will deploy a space telescope to fly alongside the Tiangong station. The telescope will conduct short-time docking with the station for resupply, maintenance and upgrading purposes, he said.

When responding to a question at Monday's news conference about China's timetable for a manned lunar landing, Ji said that scientists, engineers and program planners have made specific plans and have been working to research and develop required technologies.

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