China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts, including one woman, to the core module of a future space station where they will live and work for six months, the longest-ever duration in orbit for Chinese astronauts.
A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which means “Divine Vessel” in Chinese, blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at 12:23 a.m. Beijing time (1623 GMT on Friday).
China began construction of the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe – the first and largest of the station’s three modules. Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station.
Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. During the first crewed mission that concluded in September, three other astronauts stayed on Tianhe for 90 days.
In the latest mission, astronauts will carry out tests of the key technologies and robotics on Tianhe needed to assemble the space station, verify onboard life support systems and conduct a host of scientific experiments.
China, barred by U.S. law from working with NASA and by extension on the International Space Station (ISS), has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own station.
With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit.