China’s Shenzhou 13 spacecraft docked with the Tiangong space station core module, marking the start of a six-month stay in orbit for the crew of three, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) said Saturday.
Shenzhou 13 docked Saturday, about 6.5 hours after lift-off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert in northern China, according to an agency statement.
The crew of three consisted of Wang Yaping, 41, the first Chinese female astronaut to board the space station, Zhai Zhigang, 55, and Ye Guangfu, 41, it noted.
Besides conducting various aerospace medicine and physics experiments during their stay, the astronauts are expected to carry out two to three spacewalks and install a new robotic arm to help with future construction operations in the Tiangong space station.
Chenzhou 13 will be the space agency’s last major mission this year. Six missions -- two crewed -- are planned next year to finish construction of the space station and deliver the Wentian and Mengtian laboratory modules.
The Shenzhou 15 crew will carry out an in-orbit rotation with the Shenzhou 14 crew, meaning the space station will become home to six astronauts for the first time.
When completed, Tiangong will be about a quarter of the size of the International Space Station, which was built by a coalition of 16 countries.
The Chinese space station is likely to be the only one in near-Earth orbit by the end of the decade because the aging ISS, especially its Russian Zvezda service module, is nearing the end of its life.