By K J M Varma :
CHINA is all set to send on Thursday the first three crew members to its under-construction space station which is expected to be Beijing’s eye in the sky and will rival the aging International Space Station (ISS). The spaceship, Shenzhou-12, will take Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo into space for the construction of China’s space station, Ji Qiming, assistant to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) director, said at a nationally televised press conference held at the launch centre on Wednesday.
This will be the first manned mission during the construction of the space station and it will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre by Long March-2F carrier rocket. The mission being projected as a major breakthrough for China’s space advancement is being launched ahead of the 100-year celebrations of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) to be held next month. After entering the orbit, the spaceship will conduct a fast automated rendezvous and docking with the in-orbit space station core module Tianhe, forming a complex with the core module and the cargo craft Tianzhou-2. The astronauts aboard Shenzhou-12 will be stationed in the core module and remain in orbit for three months. China launched its space station core module Tianhe on April 29. After this, China now plans to complete the verification of key technologies and in-orbit construction of the space station through multiple launches within two years. It is expected to be ready by next year.
The manned spaceflight mission aims to conduct in-orbit verification of major technologies which include those concerning the astronauts’ long-term stay and health care, recycling and life support system, supply of space materials, extravehicular activities and operations, as well as in-orbit maintenance, said Ji said. Billed as the most prestigious and strategically important space project for China after the country’s recent Mars and previous Moon missions, the low orbit space station would be the country’s eye from the sky providing a birds-eye view for its astronauts on the rest of the world. Ji said once the station is ready China will open up for Chinese and Foreign astronauts to fly and work together.
“We are also having bilateral cooperation exchanges with countries including France, Italy, Pakistan and others focusing on space experiments in fundamental physics, space medicine and space autonomy on the space station”, he said. More importantly, he highlighted the cooperation with Russia, which is part of the ISS, a collaborative project involving five participating space agencies - NASA (US), Roscomos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada). The Chinese space station is expected to be a competitor to the aging ISS. As of now, it is expected to be the sole space station to remain in orbit once the ISS retires.