China sends two astronauts to live on its space station

Beijing: China on Monday launched two astronauts into space on a spacecraft that will dock for a month with a new experimental space station – in a giant leap for the country’s space programme.

The Shenzhou 11 mission, China’s sixth manned spacecraft, took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in inner Mongolia in northern China at 7.30 a.m. (2330 GMT) aboard a Long March-2F carrier rocket. It will dock with the Tiangong-2 — “Heavenly Palace” — space station module.

The two astronauts will remain aboard for 30 days in preparation for the start of operations in six years. The two male astronauts (taikonauts or Chinese astronauts) on board are — Jing Haipeng, 49, who has already been in space twice, and 37-year-old Chen Dong.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his congratulatory message, said the Shenzhou-11 mission with Tiangong-2 “marks a new milestone in our manned space flight mission in China.” Jing Haipeng, who is flying his third mission, will turn 50 during his time in space.

“It is any astronaut’s dream and pursuit to be able to perform many space missions,” Jing told a briefing on Sunday.

Gen. Zhang Youxia, chief commander of China’s human space programme, declared the launch of Shenzhou-11 “a complete success”.

Tiangong-2 is China’s second experimental space station module, an upgraded habitat with improved life support systems, power, communications and research equipment.

The current US-led International Space Station is expected to retire in 2024, which means that China will be the only nation left with a permanent presence in space.

During the 30-day mission, Jing and Chen will carry out a number of medical and space science experiments, as well as test various systems on the Tiangong-2 module, Xinhua news agency reported.

According to Space Flight Insider, the Shenzhou-11 crewed vehicle has a mass of about 8.1 metric tonnes and is composed of an orbital module, a return module, and an engineering module. Although developed indigenously by China, the spacecraft’s design is based on the Russian Soyuz capsule.

The two-person crew will probably return to Earth on November 14.