Shenzhou-15 prepared for launch.
Image credit: CMS/CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China is readying its next milestone in completing the country’s space station.

The piloted Shenzhou-15 spaceship program underwent a joint pre-launch rehearsal on Sunday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Meanwhile, the crew of the Shenzhou-14 mission now in Earth orbit have made preparations for the arrival of their successors, and they will make China’s first crew rotation in orbit.

The Yuanwang-6 spacecraft tracking ship, which will carry out the tracking and control mission, is also in its designated mission area.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Severe winter conditions

One challenge flagged by China Central Television (CCTV) is severe winter and bitter cold conditions at the launch site. The Shenzhou-15 launch time has intensified meteorological support for the takeoff, reportedly set for November 29th.

“To deal with the low temperature during the launch, the teams in charge of all systems at the launch site continue to carry out facilities and equipment review. Judging from the outcome of the inspection of all equipment and the joint rehearsal of the entire system today, all the systems of the rocket, the spaceship and the launch site are in good condition, and all the preparatory work before the rocket refueling has been completed,” Wang Xuewu, deputy director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, told CCTV.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Launch pad upgrades

The Long March 2F Y-15 rocket, topped by Shenzhou-15, was transferred to the launch tower on November 21.

“Through inspection, we have determined that the rocket itself is in very good condition. We hope that our rocket can carry the Shenzhou-15 crew smoothly into space,” said Chang Wuquan, chief designer of Long March 2F.

CCTV notes that the weather at the site is chilly, at about minus 20 Celsius degrees. “This temperature would be the lowest in the launching history of manned spaceship,” they report.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“During the construction of the space station, we comprehensively upgraded the air conditioning equipment in the launch tower, equipping it with heat pumps, unit electric heating and air duct electric heating systems. After debugging twice, the heating effect has apparently improved,” said Li Pengchong, a test and launch control system engineer at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Shenzhou-15/Long March 2F Y-15
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Intelligent launch

Technicians also used a special canvas to seal all chinks of the launch tower, and all stages of the rocket are equipped with thermal insulation material so that the temperature, humidity and cleanliness can be precisely adjusted.

“Focusing on the vision of intelligent space launch, the center has developed a brand-new rocket ground test and launch control system, which greatly improves the automation and intelligence level of rocket test and launch. Now all the systems at the launch site are in good shape and up to the requirements for launching,” said Shen Tingzheng, expert of overall ground test and launch control technology at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

During their mission, the trio now in orbit — Chen Dong, Cai Xuzhe and Liu Yang — oversaw the arrivals of the station’s two lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian, and saw off two cargo crafts, Tianzhou-4 and Tianzhou-5. The Chinese space station is on track to be fully completed by the end of this year.

Completing their 6-month space trek, the Shenzhou-14 crew is scheduled to return to the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in December.

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