China’s Shenzhou-17 Set for Historic Launch
Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China – China prepares for the launch of its Shenzhou-17 mission on Thursday at 11:14 am, signaling its sixth crewed voyage to the Tiangong Space Station and the second since the station’s development phase in late 2022.
Commanded by the experienced Tang Hongbo, and aided by newcomers Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin, this mission touts the youngest crew since the Tiangong’s construction.
Hongbo, born in 1975, became a Communist Party of China (CPC) member in 1997. Chosen for China’s second generation of taikonauts in 2010, he flew on the Shenzhou-12 mission in June 2021. Recognized by top Chinese authorities, Hongbo received the title of “Heroic Astronaut” in November 2021, alongside the “Third-Class Space Merit Medal,” as confirmed by the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
Shengjie, a 1989-born astronaut, joined the CPC in 2013. Becoming part of China’s third batch of taikonauts in 2020, he was handpicked for the Shenzhou-17 crew following rigorous assessments.
Jiang Xinlin, the mission’s third member, born in 1988, affiliated with the CPC in 2010. He too was chosen from China’s third taikonaut batch in 2020.
In a significant shift, Hongbo will be the first second-generation taikonaut captaining two third-generation counterparts. He also records the quickest return to the Tiangong space station in successive crewed missions. The Shenzhou-17 team’s average age stands strikingly young at 39.
Details revealed by the CMSA outline the Shenzhou-17’s anticipated docking with the Tianhe core module approximately 6.5 hours post-launch, culminating in a three-module assembly.
This mission marks the 30th flight since China’s manned space program’s inception and the 12th crewed flight. The primary objectives encompass an in-orbit crew rotation with Shenzhou-16 before embarking on a roughly six-month space tenure.
Tasks include in-orbit space science trials, astronaut spacewalks, and payload operations. These operations, per CMSA, will involve extravehicular payload installations and maintenance on the space station.
Additionally, the mission will appraise the space station’s functional performance, collecting vital data to enhance operations. This assessment aims to refine the ground support center’s efficiency in space station tasks, increasing its operational dexterity, as highlighted by the CMSA.
Experts opined on Wednesday that the Shenzhou-17 is pivotal for elevating the Tiangong’s operational efficiency and habitability. Achieving these objectives will not only advance China’s space program but also benefit global space research by sharing critical insights from prolonged space habitation.
CMSA spokesperson Lin Xiqiang confirmed that Shenzhou-17 is scheduled to operate in space till approximately April 2024, with its predecessor, Shenzhou-16, set to return on October 31.
A notable aspect of Shenzhou-17, as mentioned by Lin, is the experimental spacewalk repairs on the space station, prompted by increasing space debris. Minor damages have been detected on the solar wings due to small space particle impacts.
Despite these damages, the station remains operational, and the Shenzhou-17 crew is tasked with experimental repairs, aiming to enhance the station’s long-term viability.
China’s future space aspirations include the launch of the Xuntian space telescope, orbiting near the space station for extensive patrol observations, and module additions transforming the station from a “T” shape to a “cross”. These additions will comprise space science experiment cabinets, improving conditions for astronauts, as shared by Lin.
In a significant move towards international cooperation, Lin, during a press conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, announced China’s readiness to welcome foreign astronauts to the China Space Station. This gesture signifies China’s ambition for global collaboration in space exploration, fostering shared technological expertise and the combined pursuit of understanding the universe.
A space enthusiast, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed to the Global Times that by opening its space doors, China intends to establish a mutual knowledge-sharing platform, propelling the collective journey of exploring space.