The rocket that will carry the first inhabitants of the new Chinese orbital space station has been transferred to the launch pad a week before its scheduled takeoff date.
The plan is for the three astronauts to live on the space station for three months, far exceeding the period of any previous Chinese space mission. There they will conduct spacewalks, construction and maintenance work, and science experiments.
The main section of Tianhe Station, or Heavenly Harmony, was launched into orbit on April 29. The cargo ship dispatched last month brought fuel, food and equipment to the space station as part of preparations for the manned mission.
The Long March-2F Y12 rocket that propels the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft was flown to the platform of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Wednesday, the China Office of Manned Space Engineering announced in a brief statement. The tentative release date is next Wednesday.
The space agency plans to conduct a total of 11 launches by the end of next year, in order to deliver two laboratory modules to expand the 70-ton station, along with supplies and personnel. Next week’s launch will be the third of these and the first of four planned missions with crew.
Another cargo mission is planned for September, shortly after a replacement crew is dispatched to the station, according to reports.
China reported in March that the group of astronauts it trains for the upcoming manned missions is made up of a mix of seasoned and newcomers space travelers and includes women.
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