Credit: China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The next step in China’s in-construction space station is being readied for liftoff.

The Shenzhou-14 crewed spaceship and a Long March-2F carrier rocket have been transferred to the launching area — the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China — the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced Sunday.

Shenzhou-14 will send a trio of astronauts to China’s space station core module Tianhe in June [reportedly June 5] for a six-month mission.

Since the successful landing of the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft in April, the personnel at the launch site have been busy with upcoming missions.

Credit: CMG/CCTV/CASC/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Busy schedule

With Shenzhou-14 atop its booster, the combination slowly left the final assembly test building and approached the launch tower after traveling 1.5 kilometers on seamless rail especially built to prevent vibration.

After traveling about one and a half hours, the combo moved closer to the launch tower, and the rotary platform slowly closed.

Credit: CMG/CCTV/CASC/Inside Outer Space screengrab

From the launch of the Tianhe core module of China’s space station in April 2021, China will have completed the launch of the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, four cargo spacecraft and four manned spaceships by the end of 2022 to complete the construction of the country’s space station.

At China’s Wenchang Space Launch Center, south China’s Hainan Province, the Long March 5B Y3 carrier rocket has arrived. It will loft the Wentian (Quest for the Heavens) lab, scheduled to take place in July.

Vertical transfer

“To guarantee a safe vertical transfer, we need to set limits on both the wind speed and transfer speed. For instance, the speed of wind at the 100 meters level above the ground must not exceed 11 meters per second, and the launching platform must be moved at a speed no more than 30 meters per minute,” Zheng Yonghuang, chief engineer of the launcher center, told China Central Television (CCTV).

Credit: CMG/CCTV/CASC/Inside Outer Space screengrab

While astronauts were stationed at the Tiangong space station, the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft and the Long March-2F Y14 carrier rocket was on standby as a backup in a vertical position on the ground. Since being rolled into the launch center last August, the rocket had remained on its post for more than 280 days.

Launch drills

Pre-launch checks and joint tests will now be carried out.

“We will close the rotary platform to provide a good testing environment for the rocket-spaceship combination. Then we will conduct functionality checks on the combination as well as whole-system pre-launch drills with the participation of the astronauts to ensure that the system is in the best condition. Finally we will fuel the rocket in preparation for the pre-launch procedures,” Zheng told CCTV.

In a related development, a Long March-5B Y3 rocket, which will be used to launch the Wentian lab module of the Chinese space station, arrived at its launch site in south China’s Hainan Province on Sunday, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office.

Meanwhile, China’s space tracking ship Yuanwang-3 set sail last Thursday for its first voyage this year from a port in east China’s Jiangsu Province. The vessel will carry out its 100th maritime mission during this voyage.

Yuanwang-3 has undertaken more than 90 maritime tracking and monitoring tasks for spacecraft, including Shenzhou spaceships, Chang’e lunar probes, and BeiDou satellites.

Go to these newly issued videos showcasing the rollout of Shenzhou-14 and the Long March-2F booster at:

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