June 6, 2022
The crew of the Shenzhou XIV mission, China's ninth manned spaceflight, arrived at the Tiangong space station on Sunday evening, several hours after their spacecraft was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern Gobi Desert.
The three astronauts — mission commander Senior Colonel Chen Dong, Senior Colonel Liu Yang and Senior Colonel Cai Xuzhe — had entered the space station's core module, Tianhe, by 8:50 pm.
They are scheduled to stay in the outpost, orbiting 400 kilometers above the Earth, for six months to complete the assembly in space of the colossal station.
Their Shenzhou XIV spacecraft was launched by a Long March 2F rocket that blasted off at 10:44 am from a service tower at the oasislike Jiuquan center.
It is the second time that Chen and Liu have gone into space, and Cai's first, making him the 14th Chinese astronaut in outer space.
When their mission is completed, around the end of this year, the Tiangong space station will have become fully operational.
The three astronauts' mission has inaugurated a 10-year period in which, barring unforeseen circumstances, Chinese astronauts will be in space every day.
Shenzhou XIV is the sixth spacecraft to visit Tiangong and the third crewed ship to transport astronauts to the orbiting outpost.
Tiangong currently consists of four sections — Tianhe, the core module; the Shenzhou XIV craft; and the Tianzhou 3 and Tianzhou 4 cargo ships.
The Shenzhou XIV crew, all from the second generation of Chinese astronauts, will work with ground controllers to connect the Wentian and Mengtian space labs with the Tianhe module and then use the robotic arm to move the labs into their permanent position, said Lin Xiqiang, deputy head of China Manned Space Agency.
Wentian, the station's first lab component, will be launched in July by a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province. Mengtian, the second lab component, will be launched by a Long March 5B from Wenchang in October.
After they are connected with Tiangong, the station will form a T-shaped structure.
The astronauts will also be tasked with installing and configuring equipment, conducting scientific experiments and technological demonstrations, and maintaining routine operations on Tiangong, Lin said.
They will engage in two to three spacewalks and give science lectures to students, he said.