China’s Shenzhou XIII crewed spacecraft docked with the Tiangong space station on Saturday morning, with astronauts ready to enter the station to start a six-month journey.
The craft docked with the station’s core module, named Tianhe, or Harmony of Heavens, at 6:56 am, about six and a half hours after a rendezvous process by their spacecraft, the China Manned Space Agency said in a brief statement, adding that the entire rendezvous and docking operations were controlled by computers.
The three-member crew — mission commander Major General Zhai Zhigang, Senior Colonel Wang Yaping and Senior Colonel Ye Guangfu — will then float into the core module, which is the first and also central section of the permanent space station — Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace. They will install equipment and verify technologies and plans for the next steps in the Tiangong space station program, the agency said.
Their Shenzhou XIII spacecraft was lifted by a Long March 2F carrier rocket that blasted off at 12:23 am at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China’s Gobi Desert.
Shenzhou XIII is the fourth spacecraft to visit the Tiangong station and the second crewed ship to transport astronauts to the orbiting outpost.
The mission is expected to become the longest crewed spaceflight by China, doubling the time spent in the Shenzhou XII mission. It will also see the first spacewalk by a Chinese woman.
One of China’s most challenging and sophisticated space endeavors, Tiangong will eventually consist of three main components－the Tianhe core module attached to two large space labs－with a combined weight of nearly 70 metric tons. The entire station is set to operate for about 15 years in a low-Earth orbit about 400 kilometers above the planet.