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China launches latest crew of three en route to nation’s Tianhe space station

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China successfully launched a new crew of three taikonauts into orbit this afternoon, sending them en route to the country’s primary space station, dubbed Tianhe. The crew will meet up with the station in roughly eight hours, sparking a six-month stay in orbit. It’s set to be the longest mission taikonauts have ever taken in space.

The three taikonauts include commander Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu, part of China’s Shenzhou 13 mission. Zhai has been to space before and even performed the first spacewalk for China back in 2008 during the Shenzhou 7 mission. This will be Wang’s second spaceflight, and she will become the first woman to visit the Tianhe station.

While onboard the space station, the crew will test out technologies needed to continue construction and assembly on Tianhe. China launched the core module for Tianhe back in April, and the country plans to add two more modules to it throughout 2022. The Shenzhou 13 crew will also test out the station’s robotic arm, using it to move a spacecraft attached on one docking port to another, according to CGTN. A couple of spacewalks are also planned to add a “robotic arm adaptor and suspension system” to help with future space station construction.

This is China’s second crew to live on Tianhe long-term. The last crew of three launched in June and lived on the station for three months before returning in September. Shenzhou 13 is part of 11 planned launches to fully construct the Tianhe space station by next year.

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