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BEIJING (AP) — Three Chinese language astronauts docked early Wednesday with their nation’s area station, the place they’ll overlap for a number of days with the three-member crew already onboard and broaden the power to its most dimension.

Docking with the Tiangong station got here at 5:42 a.m. Wednesday, about 6 1/2 hours after the Shenzhou-15 spaceship blasted off atop a Lengthy March-2F provider rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite tv for pc Launch Middle on Tuesday night time.

The six-month mission, commanded by Fei Junlong and crewed by Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, would be the final within the station’s building part, in line with the China Manned Area Company. The station’s third and remaining module docked with the station earlier this month, one of many final steps in China’s effort to keep up a continuing crewed presence in orbit.

The crew of the Shenzhou-15 will spend a number of days working with the present 3-member crew of the Tiangong station, who will then return to Earth after their six-month mission.

Fei, 57, is a veteran of the 2005 four-day Shenzhou-6 mission, the second time China despatched a human into area. Deng and Zhang are making their first area flights.

The station has now expanded to its most dimension, with three modules and three spacecraft hooked up for a complete mass of practically 100 tons.

Tiangong can accommodate six astronauts at a time and the handover will take a couple of week. That marks the station’s first in-orbit crew rotation.

China has not but mentioned what additional work is required to finish the station. Subsequent yr, it plans to launch the Xuntian area telescope, which, whereas not a part of Tiangong, will orbit in sequence with the station and may dock sometimes with it for upkeep.

With out the hooked up spacecraft, the Chinese language station weighs about 66 tons — a fraction of the Worldwide Area Station, which launched its first module in 1998 and weighs round 465 tons.

With a lifespan of 10 to fifteen years, Tiangong may at some point be the one area station nonetheless up and working if the Worldwide Area Station retires within the coming years as deliberate.

Whereas China’s crewed area program is formally three many years outdated this yr, it really received underway in 2003, when China grew to become solely the third nation after the U.S. and Russia to place a human into area utilizing its personal assets.

This system is run by the ruling Communist Get together’s army wing, the Folks’s Liberation Military, and has proceeded virtually fully with out outdoors assist. The U.S. excluded China from the Worldwide Area Station due to its program’s army ties, though China has engaged in restricted cooperation with different nations’ area businesses.

China has additionally chalked up uncrewed mission successes: Its Yutu 2 rover was the primary to discover the little-known far facet of the moon.

China’s Chang’e 5 probe additionally returned lunar rocks to Earth in December 2020 for the primary time because the Nineteen Seventies, and one other Chinese language rover is looking for proof of life on Mars.

Officers are reporting contemplating an eventual crewed mission to the moon, though no timeline has been supplied, whilst NASA presses forward with its Artemis lunar exploration program that goals to ship 4 astronauts across the moon in 2024 and land people there as early as 2025.

Whereas continuing easily for probably the most half, China’s area program has additionally drawn controversy. Beijing disregarded complaints that it has allowed rocket phases to fall to Earth uncontrolled after NASA accused it of “failing to fulfill accountable requirements concerning their area particles.” In that case, components of a Chinese language rocket landed within the Indian Ocean.

China can be reportedly creating a extremely secret area aircraft and its rising area capabilities characteristic within the newest Pentagon protection technique, which mentioned this system was a part of China’s “holistic strategy to joint warfare.”

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