The Chinese Shenzhou-15 spacecraft took off today bound for the Tiangong space station with three astronauts on board, who are expected to stay there for half a year to complete its construction, reported the Xinhua news agency.

The launch was successful from the Jiuquan base shortly after 11:00 p.m. local time (3:00 p.m. GMT).

A Long March 2F Y15 rocket propelled the Shenzhou-15 into space, whose crew consists of Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu, with Fei, the oldest, as commander.

The three “taikonauts” (as Chinese cosmonauts are known) will take over from the three currently aboard the space station who arrived at the station last June.

Both groups will live together for approximately a week, after which the current crew members will return to Earth.

During their stay, Fei, Deng and Zhang will monitor the arrival of the Tianzhou-6 cargo spacecraft at the station and verify the capacity of the modules in their current T-shaped arrangement to support the long-term stay of the taikonauts and their rotations, China’s Space Agency for Manned Missions (AEMT) reported today.

In addition, they will carry out more than forty scientific experiments and technical tests of space science, medicine and technology, and carry out three or four extravehicular walks.

The components of the Shenzhou-15 will be the last to inhabit the Tiangong station during its construction phase and will hand over the baton in approximately six months to those of the Shenzhou-16, which will be the first to arrive at an already completed Tiangong.

In the next six months, the station will be expanded and will reach its largest, with a mass of 100 tons, explained the AEMT.

The crew will be able to enjoy more fresh fruit during their stay, of which larger supplies have been prepared than in previous missions, said the chief designer of the manned spacecraft system, Diao Weihe.

The Chinese space station, whose name means “Heavenly Palace” in Mandarin, is scheduled to operate for about 15 years orbiting about 400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

By 2024, it is likely to become the world’s only space station if the International Space Station, an initiative led by the United States and to which China is barred from access due to military ties to its space program, retires that year as as planned.

In recent years, the Chinese space program has achieved successes such as landing the Chang’e 4 probe on the far side of the Moon -the first time it has been achieved- and reaching Mars for the first time, becoming the third country -after the United States United States and the extinct Soviet Union- in landing.

Categorized in: