China to launch spaceship with 3 astronauts on June 17
China is expected to launch a manned spacecraft with three astronauts on board at 9.22 am on Thursday from the Gobi desert, an official at the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said.
The Shenzhou-12 - Divine Vessel in Chinese - manned spaceship will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, the CMSA announced on Wednesday.
On board will be three male astronauts, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo, chosen after a rigorous array of tests.
The three astronauts will be taken into space for the construction of China’s space station, the Xinhua news agency said. “After entering orbit, the spaceship will conduct a fast automated rendezvous and docking with the in-orbit space station core module Tianhe, forming a complex with the core module and the cargo craft Tianzhou-2.”
The astronauts aboard Shenzhou-12 will be stationed in the core module and remain in orbit for three months.
The Shenzhou-12 crew will live on Tianhe, “Harmony of the Heaven”, a cylinder 16.6m long and 4.2m in diameter.
Tianhe is the first module that will eventually form China’s own three-module space station, which it began building in April.
Shenzhou 12 will be the third of 11 missions to complete China’s space station.
The planned three-month stay would break China’s record of 30 days, set by the 2016 mission – China’s last crewed flight - of Chen Dong and Jing Haipeng to a prototype station.
Of the three astronauts, two are considered veterans in China’s space travel history.
Nie, 56, will board the Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft for his third flight, following his first during the Shenzhou-6 mission in October 2005 and second flight of Shenzhou-10 in June 2013.
Liu, 54, will join Nie in the upcoming mission after his first trip to space in September 2008 during the Shenzhou-7 spaceship mission.
Both Nie and Liu were fighter pilots with People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force.
The third crew member, Tang Hongbo, 46, was selected from the second batch of astronauts in 2011.
“China selected its first batch of 14 astronauts in the mid-1990s. Since 2003, it has sent six astronauts into space, including Yang Liwei, the country’s first astronaut, and Zhai Zhigang, who carried out China’s first space walk in September 2008,” Global Times reported.
The backup crew members for the Shenzhou 12 mission include one woman astronaut - Wang Yaping, who was part of the Shenzhou-10 mission in 2013.
On May 30, a cargo spacecraft carrying supplies including food and equipment docked with China’s first space station’s key module Tianhe as part of the preparation for the station to host three astronauts this month.
The unmanned Tianzhou-2, or “Heavenly Vessel” in Chinese, docked with Tianhe (the key module).
The launch and docking of Tianzhou-2 was carried out a month after Tianhe, the first part of the space station Tiangong, “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese, was launched.
In late April, China sent to space Tianhe, the management and control hub of Tiangong, the permanent space station, which it plans to complete by 2022 as part of its ambitious space programme.
The Tianhe, which was sent to orbit by a rocket, can provide electricity and accommodate three astronauts for up to six months.