Three Chinese astronauts return from three-month mission to the space station – SpacePolicyOnline.com
Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth today after three months aboard the central module of the Chinese space station, Tianhe. It is the longest mission of all Chinese astronauts and marks the beginning of the new era of the Chinese space station. Tianhe is the first segment of a multi-modular facility and will accommodate expeditions of increasing duration. Despite decades behind Russia and the United States, this is a milestone in China’s growing space ambitions.
As usual, China provided very little information on exactly when the crew of the Shenzhou-12 would return until the last hours. Chinese space observers deduced the re-entry date and time from an Airmen Advisory (NOTAM) to clear airspace near the intended landing site around the time the crew reached the mission’s three-month mark, the length of time mentioned in Chinese media when the crew launched on June 17.
On Wednesday evening, Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), which was Thursday morning Beijing time (BST), Chinese media reported, after the fact, that the crew had undocked from Tianhe. They maneuvered around the space station for several hours and returned today, landing at 1:34 a.m. EDT this morning (1:34 p.m. local time at the landing site).
– China Xinhua Sci-Tech (@XHscitech) September 17, 2021
China’s human spaceflight program has proceeded at a measured pace since the launch of China’s first astronaut, or taikonaut, in 2003. Of the 12 Shenzhou spacecraft launched so far, only seven have carried people. Two small space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, were launched in 2011 and 2016 and hosted a total of three crews. The longest crew time in space so far was 32 days.
Tianhe and Shenzhou-12 usher in a whole new era in China’s human spaceflight program. Launched in April, Tianhe is a 22.5 metric ton (MT) module, the first of three modules that will form the China Space Station (CSS) which is expected to be completed next year. At around 60 metric tons (MT), the CSS will still be much smaller than the US-Russian-European-Japanese-Canadian International Space Station (ISS) of 420 MT, but a marked improvement over the comparatively tiny Tiangong-1. , 8.5 MT and – 2 space stations that preceded it.
The crew of the Shenzhou-12 conducted two spacewalks, one lasting about 7 hours and the other about 5 hours. Although routine by ISS standards, China’s only other spacewalk lasted 22 minutes more than ten years ago. China has shared little information on what else the crew has been up to over the past three months, but the China Manned Spaceflight Agency (CMSA) has released a short video (in Chinese) with some highlights.
This is a very interesting review of China’s human spaceflight agency CMSA’s Shenzhou-12 mission posted on Weibo. https://t.co/euGBkTQpOf pic.twitter.com/aRWS5oUX9T
– Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) September 17, 2021
Like the ISS and three Russian space stations before it, Tianhe is supplied by Tianzhou series cargo spaceships. The next, Tianzhou-3, is expected to launch in three days, on September 20, followed by the next crew, which is expected to stay for 6 months. The other two modules of the space station are expected to be launched next year.
China invites other countries, including Russia, to send crews to the CSS. Russia is an ISS partner, but also plans to send cosmonauts to the CSS as part of expanded space cooperation with China that includes possible human missions to the Moon in 2036 and beyond.