Practicing ground recovery crews at the Shenzhou-13 Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The crew aboard China’s Shenzhou-13 mission are ready for leaving the space station core module, Tianhe, making a “fast return” to terra firma.

Ground crews at the slated Dongfeng landing site have wrapped up preparations for the return of the three astronauts, said the China Manned Space Agency.

The Shenzhou-13 crewed spacecraft, which has completed all its scheduled tasks, will separate from the space station core module Tianhe at an appropriate time and land at the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia, said the agency.

Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Yang Yanbo, deputy commander of the space mission team under the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, said Friday that the Shenzhou-13 crew — Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu — are in good condition and ready for their return to Earth.

“The astronauts have been preparing their return for more than 10 days. The main task is to sort out some materials and transfer them. They need to ensure the samples of experiments can be carried back safely, some key materials used in our space station can be kept there and unnecessary ones can be transferred to the cargo spacecraft in advance. Now, all the astronauts are in good shape,” Yang said.

Packing up for return to Earth – Shenzhou-13 crew.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Landing site

Recovery ground crews are fully prepared, too, as search teams are on standby and multiple search and rescue plans have been elaborately worked out to improve efficiency.

According to China Central Television (CCTV) the Dongfeng Landing Site, located in the Ejin Banner of Inner Mongolia, spans some 13,000 square kilometers with the vast Gobi Desert to the west and its sparsely-populated flatlands to the east, and provides ideal terrain for helicopters to hover and safely land.

As the longest space mission of a Chinese crew – some 6 months – this trio of taikonauts entered China’s space station on Oct. 16, 2021. Meanwhile, this crew have also left some necessary items for the crew of Shenzhou-14 mission to live and work in China’s space station Tiangong.

Upon leaving, the Shenzhou-13 crew will switch the space station into unmanned flight mode and make sure all the equipment and devices are in normal operation, stated CCTV.

Credit: CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

On-station work achievements

As noted by CCTV, during their almost six months’ mission in orbit so far, the Shenzhou-13 crew has completed two extravehicular activities (EVAs).

Zhai and Wang made a 6.5-hour space walk and successfully performed their tasks on November 7, while astronaut Ye stayed inside to support his crewmates in completing the operations.

It marked the first EVAs in Chinese space history involving a female astronaut.

On December 26, Zhai followed Ye who went outside of the space station first and stepped into space, while their teammate Wang Yaping remained inside to assist their operations.

After the two astronauts exited the core model, they coordinated to carry out the mission of lifting a panoramic camera outside the space station, the testing for manned goods transport, and the testing of the functions and performance of the core module airlock cabin, extravehicular suit, and mechanical arm.

Robotic arm work

In January, a transposition test on Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft was successfully completed by the robotic arm installed on the Tianhe core module. It was China’s first trial to relocate a large in-orbit spacecraft with a mechanical arm of the space station.

On Jan. 8, the Shenzhou-13 astronauts completed the manual rendezvous and docking experiment with the Tianzhou-2 cargo craft.

It was the first time that astronauts use hand-controlled teleoperation equipment in orbit to control rendezvous and docking between a cargo spacecraft and a space station.

The test preliminarily verified the function and performance of space station and the visiting spacecraft hand-controlled teleoperation system, offering valuable reference for future in-orbit assembly of the space station.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In addition to testing the key technologies for assembly and construction of China’s space station, the crew also livestreamed science lectures during their mission in space, reported CCTV.

“After the astronauts successfully get out of the capsule, our recovery team will conduct a series of disposals on the capsule, and then take out some samples of the experiments and payloads brought down from the space station in the capsule in time, and hand them over to the relevant party. Then, an on-site measurement and evidence collection will be carried out on the status of a series of movements after the capsule landed. The final step is to dispose of the return capsule before transportation,” said Peng Huakang, technical principal of the recovery team from China’s Fifth Institute of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Go to these new videos that show Shenzhou-13 landing preparations at:

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