Chinese astronauts set to launch Friday for six-month space station flight – Spaceflight Now


Chinese Astronaut Ye Guangfu, Commander Zhai Zhigang and Astronaut Wang Yaping met with Chinese media at a pre-launch press conference Thursday at the Jiuquan Space Center. Credit: CCTV

China’s first six-month manned space mission, which is set to become a regular event for the rest of the decade, is set to launch on Friday to kick off a trip to the country’s Tiangong space station.

Chinese authorities on Thursday unveiled the astronauts for the Shenzhou 13 mission, publicly naming Commander Zhai Zhigang as the head of the crew. He will be joined by veteran astronaut Wang Yaping, who became the second Chinese woman to fly in space in 2013, and Ye Guangfu, a first-time space pilot.

The astronauts met with Chinese state media on Thursday at a televised press conference at the Jiuquan space base, where the Shenzhou 13 mission is scheduled to launch Friday at 12:23:44 a.m. EDT (4:23 p.m. 44 s GMT).

“All preparations before the launch are in order,” said Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the Chinese Manned Space Agency.

Shenzhou 13 is expected to travel to the space station for a six-month stay, surpassing the 92-day flight made by Shenzhou 12, China’s previous manned space mission. The three Shenzhou 12 astronauts were the first to board the Tiangong space station in June, and they returned to Earth last month.

Zhai, a 55-year-old astronaut who holds the rank of major general in the Chinese military, will lead the Shenzhou 13 mission. He previously spent nearly three days in orbit on the Shenzhou 7 mission in 2008.

“After 13 years, I’m going to go back to space,” Zhai said. “I feel excited. I feel inspired. I also feel a certain pressure.

He will be joined in the Shenzhou 13 crew capsule by astronaut Wang Yaping, 41, who will become the first woman to live aboard China’s Tiangong space station. Wang is the most experienced space pilot in Shenzhou 13, with more than 14 days of space flight on the Shenzhou 10 mission in 2013.

The third member of the Shenzhou 13 crew is Ye Guangfu, also 41 years old. Ye is a pilot in the Chinese army and will make his first trip to space.

Zhai said the hardest part of the Shenzhou 13 mission will be its marathon duration.

“We have to stay in a weightless environment for six months, ”he said through an interpreter. “So a big challenge for our physical and mental situation. We are sure to encounter challenges in terms of physical and mental health, but also technical problems.

“The success of the mission depends on the three of us,” he said. “We will have unwavering determination and a fighting spirit. “

Chinese officials assigned Zhai and his teammates to the Shenzhou 13 mission in December 2019, although the astronauts were not publicly identified until Thursday. The nearly two years of training brought the crew members together, Zhai said.

“For me, personally, it’s a big challenge,” Ye said. “But I have all the confidence to carry out this mission. Confidence comes from generations of astronauts and their efforts, it comes from the teamwork of all astronauts.

It also comes from my 11 years of hard work, ”Ye said, referring to the time since he joined the Chinese Astronaut Corps in 2010.“ I look forward to this mission. I hope to have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of space from a new perspective and to have a bird’s eye view of planet Earth. I also want to have a bird’s eye view of the great land of China.

Wang said she dreamed of flying into space again after her 2013 flight.

“Very soon the dream will come true as I will be flying into space tomorrow, and this time we will be in a space station built in China,” she said.

Like all Chinese astronauts, the trio will take off from Jiuquan on top of a Chinese Long March 2F rocket. The 58-meter-high rocket, fueled by a toxic but stable mixture of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, will transport the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft into orbit in less than 10 minutes.

Ground crews in Jiuquan, located in the Gobi Desert in northwest China, loaded liquid propellants into the Long March 2F rocket on Thursday.

The capsule will deploy solar panels to generate electricity, then begin firing thrusters to catch up with the Tiangong space station more than 240 miles (390 kilometers) above Earth. the Tianhe central module of the space station.

This will be the first mooring at port nadir. Shenzhou 12 docked at Tianhe Forward Port in June.

Two Chinese Tianzhou cargo ships are currently moored at the station’s fore and aft ports.

Once Shenzhou 13 joins the Tianhe module, “the Chinese space station will function as a combination of four spacecraft: a core module, two cargo spacecraft and a human spacecraft,” Lin said Thursday.

The Shenzhou 13 mission patch includes an illustration of the Tiangong space station in its configuration with the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft docked at its nadir, or docking port facing Earth. Two Tianzhou cargo ships are seen moored at the front and rear ports of the Tianhe central module. Credit: CMSA

At a press conference Thursday, Lin said the main objectives of the Shenzhou 13 mission included technology testing for the future assembly and expansion of the Tiangong space station. The crew of the Shenzhou 13 are trained to operate robotic arms outside the central module in Tianhe, and they have practiced using remote control technology to manually moor freighters visiting Tianzhou.

Astronauts will exit the space station two or three times during their semester in space to prepare the lab for the arrival of new permanent modules in 2022. Wang, who was a Chinese military pilot before joining the Astronaut Corps Chinese, will become the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk.

Zhai, Wang and Ye will assess the living and working conditions inside the Tianhe Core Module. They will test the station’s life support and exercise systems, and perform a series of science experiments, including research in space medicine and microgravity physics, according to Lin.

The astronauts will also address the Chinese public through science education and awareness activities. Wang is expected to give at least one science lecture to Chinese students while at the Tiangong space station.

Tiangong means heavenly palace in Chinese, while Shenzhou is translated as divine vessel. Tianhe means celestial harmony and Tianzhou means celestial vessel.

With Tianzhou’s two cargo ships docked, the Tiangong space station stretches over 120 feet, or about 38 meters. Tianhe’s central module is about 14 feet wide, or 4.2 meters wide.

The Long March 2F rocket with the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft rolls out of the vehicle assembly building in Jiuquan on October 7, starting the journey to the launch pad. Credit: CMSA

Shenzhou 13 is the fifth of 11 missions in 2021 and 2022 to assemble the Tiangong space station.

The first section of the complex, Tianhe, was launched in April on a heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket. The cargo ship Tianzhou 2 was launched in May, followed by the launch of Shenzhou 12 the following month and the Tianzhou 3 refueling mission in September.

After the launch of Shenzhou 13, China is planning six more missions in 2022, including the launch of the large Wentian and Mengtian laboratory modules to complete the initial assembly of the space station. Two more freighters from Tianzhou and two crew spacecraft from Shenzhou are also slated to launch in 2022.

Lin said that Shenzhou 13 is the last mission in the “technology demonstration phase” of the Tiangong space station program. Assuming a successful Shenzhou 13 flight, Chinese authorities will perform a “full system assessment” before moving on to the construction phase, which will include the launch and connection of the new Wentian and Mention lab modules when the next Chinese crew, Shenzhou 14, is on board the station next year.

Once the three modules are connected together, the Tiangong station will have a permanent mass of about 66 metric tons, or about one sixth of the mass of the International Space Station. Visiting vehicles, such as crew ships from Shenzhou and cargo ships from Tianzhou, will push the mass of the space station closer to 100 metric tons.

The Tianzhou 5 and Shenzhou 15 missions will launch at the end of next year, starting a regular rotation of crews and cargo ships to the Tiangong space station.

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