Docking of Shenzhou-15 crew with China’s space station.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The crew of China’s Shenzhou-15 successfully linked up with the front port of the country’s Tianhe space station module on early Wednesday (Beijing Time).

Following launch atop a Long March-2F Y15 carrier rocket, the taikonaut trio — commander Fei Junlong, along with two newcomers, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu – made a 6.5 hours long “fast automated rendezvous and docking” and will carry out China’s first-ever, in-orbit crew rotation.

China’s six-person crew onboard the country’s orbital complex.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The six astronauts now onboard the station are projected to live and work together for about five days to complete planned tasks and handover work, according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

Launched back in early June of this year, the Shenzhou-14 crew — Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe — have worked in orbit for more than 175 days.

Shenzhou-15 crew. Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Smooth operations

“The Shenzhou-15 mission marks the first time that we are running a simultaneous measurement and control on the space station with three modules and three spaceships in place,” said Yang Yanbo, deputy commander of the space station mission at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Two manned spaceships are berthing at the space station at the same time. We worked seriously to figure out a thorough plan as well as contingency plans on the whole launch-rendezvous-docking process to ensure it all goes smoothly,” Yang told China Central Television (CCTV).

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Year-end goal

China officially kicked off the in-orbit construction of its space station after launching the core module Tianhe in April 2021.

Shenzhou-15 is the sixth flight mission of China’s crewed spaceflight program this year, notes CCTV, and the last one in the construction phase of China’s space station – the final, year-end goal of China’s “three-step” human space program initiated 30 years ago.

Space traveler, Yang Liwei, aboard Shenzhou-5 in October 2003, is the country’s first astronaut to reach orbit.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Crew rotation

According to Huang Weifen, chief designer of the astronaut system for China’s human spaceflight program:

“This is the first ever in-orbit crew rotation for us, but it will be something regular in future space station missions. We will make optimization and improvements from this rotation and form a standard practice to guide future in-orbit crew rotations.”

After launch, as Shenzhou-15 reached its 200-meter berthing point prior to the final docking, the crew members of Shenzhou-15 and Shenzhou-14 had talked with each other.

“When Shenzhou-15 was at the 200-meter berthing point, we heard Fei Junlong talking with the Shenzhou-14 crew aboard the space station. This is a big difference from previous experience without people aboard the space station,” said Huang, interviewed by the China Media Group (CMG).

Inventory of all supplies

“The Shenzhou-14 crew will help the Shenzhou-15 crew transfer supplies, equipment to the space station,” said Huang. “The Shenzhou-15 crew will also help the Shenzhou-14 crew prepare samples and other items they planned to take back and take them to Shenzhou-14.”

Station complete is set for year’s end.
Credit: CMS/CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The two crews will hand over and confirm the state of equipment onboard the space station, the status of all experiments and make an inventory of all supplies. The focus will be an inventory of all supplies, Huang added.

In an interview with China Global Television Network (CGTN), Huang also noted that the handover period for the two crews is five days.

“Before its completion, the Shenzhou-14 crew is responsible for the duties at the space station. And then, it’s the turn of the Shenzhou-15 crew. The former will introduce and guide the latter, helping them to adjust to the environment,” Huang said.

“Then, the former will return to the Earth and the latter will assist them during the process. Such coordination was rehearsed on the ground. And, we arranged the space-and-ground communication via audio and video. The Shenzhou-14 crew also shared their experiences and offered support. This time, the Shenzhou-15 crew has prepared gifts for their departing peers. I believe they will have a great time together during the handover,” said Huang.

Credit: CMSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space

Launch rate

Ren Changwei, the chief designer of the manned spacecraft system general assembly, said in an interview that more improvements will be needed in the future spacecraft design and their research and development capability, in order to adapt to the future operation of the space station.

“For the follow-up missions, we have to adapt to the new schedule that two spacecrafts will be launched every year in the future, which is quite different from what we had done before that only one manned spacecraft was launched within a couple of years,” Ren said.

“Thus, we need improve our research and development capability,” Ren added. “Moreover, we will upgrade functions of the Shenzhou spacecraft. We will also improve its load transport capacity, enabling it to carry more loads and meet other demands in its ascending and descending.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Preparatory astronauts

China’s selection process for their fourth batch of preparatory astronauts has more strict requirements and higher standards, according to Yang Liwe, China’s first astronaut. He is the current deputy chief designer of China’s piloted space program and has led China’s crewed spaceflight project for nearly two decades.

Yang said that this year’s selection of China’s fourth batch of astronauts is relatively different from the previous one, not only because the new reserve astronauts are supposed to adapt to a more challenging in-space tasks, but also due to a new arrangement of the types of astronauts.

Selection process

“There are adjustment in terms of physiological standards, as we have added different types of astronauts. For example, we have loosened requirements on our payload experts in terms of their eyesight compared with that on our rocket pilots, but imposed stricter requirements or higher standards in terms of their knowledge structure,” Yang said.

Training facilities. Credit: New China TV/GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China began its selection of its fourth batch of reserve astronauts in September, and some 12 to 14 reserve astronauts will be selected.

The selection process will take about one year and a half, and for the first time ever, candidates for payload specialists will also be selected from the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions.

A number of videos were released focused on the Shenzhou-15 liftoff and docking. You can find a selection here at:


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