Chinese astronauts prepare for a six-month flight in the construction of a space station – Spaceflight Now

A Chinese Long March 2F rocket with the Shenzhou 14 spacecraft rolled to the launch pad at Jiuquan Space Center on May 29. Credit: CCAC Three Chinese military pilots are ready for launch Saturday on

A Chinese Long March 2F rocket with the Shenzhou 14 spacecraft rolled to the launch pad at Jiuquan Space Center on May 29. Credit: CCAC

Three Chinese military pilots are ready for launch Saturday on a Long March 2F rocket to begin a six-month expedition to help expand China’s space station into low Earth orbit, a mission expected to include the arrival of two modules and multiple spacewalks.

Chinese officials publicly revealed the crew of the Shenzhou 14 mission on Saturday, less than 24 hours before the astronauts were to lift off from the Jiuquan launch base in China’s northwest Gobi Desert.

The three-person crew will be commanded by Chen Dong, a 43-year-old former Chinese military fighter pilot who logged 32 days in orbit on the Shenzhou 11 mission in 2016. Joining him on the six-month Shenzhou 14 mission will be Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe, also pilots in the Chinese army.

Like Chen, Liu is on his second trip to space. She became the first Chinese woman to reach space in 2012 during the Shenzhou 9 mission. Aged 43, he is a colonel in the Chinese air force.

Cai, 46, is preparing for his first launch into space.

“In addition to work, I will also enjoy the beauty of outer space, take pictures of the beautiful Earth and the great motherland, take a look at the Yangtze River and the Yellow River, and find my dear city native, and I will share it with you at that time,” Cai said during a press briefing on Saturday.

Chen, Liu and Cai plan to don their launch and entry suits and take a bus to the launch pad a few hours before liftoff, when they will take an elevator and board the Shenzhou spacecraft. 14 atop the 203 foot high. (62 meters) rocket.

“The astronaut flight crew is in good condition, the ground system facilities and equipment are working stably, and all pre-launch preparations are basically complete,” said Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the Space Agency. inhabited from China.

The launch is scheduled for 10:44 p.m. EDT Saturday (02:44 GMT Sunday), a precise time chosen for when the Earth’s rotation brings the Long March launch pad under the flight path of the Chinese space station.

Liftoff is scheduled for 10:44 a.m. Beijing time, when the Long March 2F’s liquid-fueled engines will ignite to push the launch vehicle into the sky.

Astronauts Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang (left to right) greet media representatives at Jiuquan Launch Base. Credit: China Manned Space Agency

A core stage engine and four strap thrusters will generate 1.4 million pounds of thrust, driving the rocket and crew east from Jiuquan in pursuit of the Chinese space station. The Long March 2F will consume thousands of gallons of toxic and corrosive propellants to accelerate the 8.5-ton Shenzhou spacecraft into orbit.

The rocket’s second stage will deploy the crew approximately 10 minutes into the mission. Moments later, Shenzhou 14 is scheduled to deploy its solar panels to begin generating its own electricity.

The spacecraft will fire thrusters to fine-tune its approach to the Chinese space station, culminating in an automated docking to the Tianhe Core Module about six hours after liftoff. Astronauts will open hatches and float into Tianhe’s core module to begin their work.

Two unmanned Tianzhou cargo ships are currently docked at the Tianhe Core Module, which orbits the Earth at an altitude of about 240 miles (385 kilometers). The most recent cargo delivery by the Tianzhou 4 spacecraft arrived on May 9.

Shenzhou 14 is the third crew mission to visit the Chinese station. The Shenzhou 12 astronauts spent three months on the station last year, and the three astronauts on the Shenzhou 13 mission left the orbital complex on April 15, heading for landing after six months in space.

During their scheduled semester in orbit, the Shenzhou 14 astronauts will see the arrival of two new pressurized research modules that will attach to the central section of Tianhe, giving the Chinese station its fully assembled “T-shaped” configuration. .

Astronauts will unpack equipment and supplies delivered by the Tianzhou 4 freighter last month, and will also see the arrival of the Tianzhou 5 supply ship later this year.

The Wentian module, slated for launch in late July, will carry a small robotic arm designed for more precise movements than the larger arm positioned outside the core Tianhe module. The Wentian module will mainly host experiments in life sciences and biology, Chinese officials said.

The launch of the Mengtian module is scheduled for October. It will host materials science experiments and technology demonstrations, according to Lin, deputy director of China’s human spaceflight program.

The Long March 5B heavy launch vehicle for the Wentian module arrived at the Wenchang launch base in southern China last month. The rocket components were manufactured at a state-owned factory in Tianjin, China, and transported by ship to the launch base on Hainan Island.

The Wentian Lab itself was previously delivered to the launch site.

Artist’s rendering of the Chinese space station after the launch of two new experiment modules later this year. Credit: China Manned Space Agency

The Wentian and Mengtian modules will initially dock with an axial port on the Tianhe module. A mechanical arm will move the 20-ton modules to their final positions on either side of the space station’s central section.

The Shenzhou 14 astronauts will be the first to enter the Wentian and Mengtian modules after their final connection with the Tianhe core. They will also use a new airlock in the Wentian module for two or three spacewalks, according to Lin.

On previous spacewalks outside the Chinese station, astronauts exited through a hatch on the Tianhe module.

“The Shenzhou 14 flight crew will cooperate with the ground to complete the rendezvous, docking and repositioning of the two experimental cabins and the main cabin,” Lin said. “They will be stationed in the Wentian Experimental Cabin and the Mengtian Experimental Cabin for the first time to establish a manned environment.”

The Shenzhou 14 crew will remain in orbit on China’s space station until December, when their replacements are scheduled to launch on the Shenzhou 15 mission.

The flight plan includes a brief transfer between crews from Shenzhou 14 and 15, temporarily increasing the size of the Chinese space station’s crew to six astronauts, a record for China’s human spaceflight program.

With cargo ship arrivals and departures, the addition of two new research modules, spacecraft repositioning maneuvers and the docking of the Shenzhou 15 crew ship later this year, China’s space station will pass through nine different configurations during the six-month Shenzhou 14 expedition.

The busy schedule “will put high demands on the crew’s ability to perform,” Lin said.

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