China launches second crewed mission to Tiangong, becoming first long-term crew

China’s second crewed mission of the year, Shenzhou-13, has arrived at the Tianhe space station core module.

The three-person crew of Shenzhou-13 will spend the next six months in orbit aboard the space station – a record for China’s space program. Shenzhou-12, the last crew to visit Tiangong, returned to Earth this September after their 90-day mission. The newly-arrived crew will perform various experiments, EVAs, and continue to set up the space station. During this time, the Shenzhou-14 rocket will be on standby throughout the mission if the astronauts find themselves in an emergency. Following this mission, all future Chinese launches to the outpost will continue the six-month precedent set by Shenzhou-13.

The three-person crew of Shenzhou-13 includes mission commander Zhai Zhigang, Ye Guangfu, and Wang Yaping, who will be the first woman to stay aboard Tianhe. Yaping became the second Chinese woman to reach space aboard Shenzhou-10 and soon will be the first Chinese woman to perform a spacewalk. Zhai Zhigang became the first Chinese astronaut to perform a spacewalk during Shenzhou-7, with this mission being his second flight to space. This is Ye Guangfu’s first space mission.

Watch the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft dock with the Tianhe Space Station [Credit: CGTN]

Mission Timeline

Shenzhou-13 lifted off from northwest China, at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Friday at 12:23 p.m. EST. Shortly after launch, the Chang Zheng 2F separated its two boosters, and the second stage carried the Shenzhou spacecraft into orbit. Finally, at 6:52 p.m. EST, the spacecraft docked with the Tiangong space station.

Tiangong Space Station

The Tianhe module is just the beginning of China’s ambitious human spaceflight program. In 2022 China plans to launch two more modules to the station – Wentian, and Mengtian. These two modules will expand the habitable space and add more docking ports, possibly allowing for multi-mission expeditions.

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