Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The new arrivals at China’s space station construction site are busy at work at the start of their projected six-month stay.

The Shenzhou-13 crew has opened the hatch of the Tianzhou-3 cargo craft, transferring hardware and life-sustaining supplies. The space trio of Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and space rookie, Ye Guangfu, will also open the hatch of the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft.

On the near-term agenda is conducting two to three extra-vehicular activities and scientific research. Wang Yaping, the only female astronaut of the crew, will carry out a spacewalk, as well as perform science education work. It will be the second time for her to broadcast a live lecture in space. During her Shenzhou-10 flight in 2013, she reached an audience of over 60 million schoolchildren.

“Apart from experiments, we also hope to do more space science education, to let the public have closer contact with space. We hope the public can know our space, our life, as well as the miraculous feeling in space. These are the things we hope to do,” said Wang told China Central Television (CCTV) prior to the Shenzhou-13 launch.

Credit: China National Space Administration (CNSA)/China Media Group(CMG)/China Central Television (CCTV)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Priority work

Following liftoff of the Shenzhou-13 spaceship atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket early Saturday morning, the taikonauts completed a fast automated rendezvous and docking with the Tianhe core module, forming a complex together with the already docked Tianzhou-2 and Tianzhou-3 supply ships.

Current configuration of China’s space facility.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The three Chinese astronauts aboard Shenzhou-13 spaceship still have more adjusting and setting work to do after entering China’s space station.

In an interview with CCTV, Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut, said the priority work of the astronauts after entering the core module is to make adjustments and settings related to their living. Yang is also the deputy chief designer of China’s manned space program.

Yang said the astronauts have been well prepared for long-time work in space. They also brought to space some leisure products to enrich their life.

“During the on-ground training in the previous period, the astronauts completed a lot of training in both physical and mental reserve, including the psychological compatibility among the three of them,” Yang said. “In addition to professional and physical preparation, they also brought with them some spare-time products to space, including their favorite music, books and videos. Therefore, the astronauts’ leisure time will be enriched during the half-year stay, and their working status will be better adjusted as well.”

Credit: GLOBALink/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Next steps

Yang also said the Shenzhou-13 mission is a milestone flight in China’s space station activities.

“After the entire space station is completed next year, it will be operational for more than ten years, which is our current plan. From long-term perspective of manned spaceflight, we will enter deeper far-reaching space,” Yang said. “For example, we are doing demonstration work for our plan of [a] manned Moon landing. I think after the project is approved in the near future, we will see our astronauts go further in the far-reaching space exploration.”

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s evolving Tiangong space station construction plans have been outlined.

Next year, China will conduct six flight missions and dock two experimental modules with the space station’s core module, according to Huang Zhen, deputy chief designer at the China Academy of Space Technology.

“After the completion of the mission by the Shenzhou-13 crew, it will mean that we have finished all of the work for the key technology verification phase and have entered the construction phase of the space station,” Huang told CCTV. “In this phase, we are going to first launch Tianzhou-4 and Shenzhou-14. While the astronauts are still in the core module, we will successively launch Wentian and Mengtian, two large experimental cabins weighing over 20 tons and dock them with the core module to form a ‘T’ structure,” said Huang.

Robotic arm helps on space station construction.
Credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Little “T” and big “T”

The Wentian and Mengtian modules will dock with the core module from the front port. Through the space station’s “position changing mechanism,” one of them will switch to the left side and the other to the right side. The two modules will form a “T” configuration with the core cabin.

“This is why the current ‘T’ is called the little ‘T’, while the ‘T’ composed of the two experimental cabins and the core cabin – three spacecrafts weighing more than 20 tons – is the big ‘T’,” Huang continued.

With the crew of the Shenzhou-14 mission still onboard the space station, China will launch Tianzhou-5 and Shenzhou-15. “It will be the first time our astronauts switch shifts during orbit,” Huang added.

Rolling base

According to Zhang Yan, director of Division No.11 at the China Astronaut Research and Training Center, “our mission is conducted on a rolling base. So is the training of our astronauts. For the Shenzhou-14 and Shenzhou-15 missions and the third batch of astronauts, we have basically put in place simulators of the core module and two experimental modules and equipment for underwater training, extra-vehicular activity training, and virtual training. We now have the conditions for simulating the missions of Shenzhou-14 and Shenzhou-15 and training astronauts.”

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)/China Manned Space Agency (CMSA)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Also on tap is the launch of a Chinese space survey telescope. It will co-orbit with the space station for a long-term independent flight. The telescope is designed to conduct space survey observations and stop at the space station for short-term replenishment and maintenance upgrades.

To watch a newly issued set of videos on the Shenzhou-13 mission and future space station construction plans, go to:


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