China’s space ambitions had a leap on Thursday as three astronauts arrived at the country’s nascent space station.
Chinese spacecraft ‘Shenzhou 12’ successfully docked with the core Tianhe module of the space station that was under construction.
The docking manoeuvre was carried out automatically, Chinese media reported. The flight represented the first manned Chinese space mission in five years.
The three Chinese spacefarers were set to spend three months in orbit a record for Chinese “taikonauts” and would use the time to help set up the space station.
The station was under construction with two more modules set to be connected to it before it was completed in 2022.
Shenzhou 12 carrying Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo blasted off from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert on Thursday morning.
During their stay, the astronauts led by 56-year-old commander Nie, planned to test important functions of the core module and also carried out scientific experiments.
The flight programme was planned on a tight schedule, with the next resupply flight set for inauguration in September.
The last cargo flight with materials and fuel was sent in late May.
Three more astronauts would follow in October.
To complete the space station, two more laboratory modules, each weighing some 20 tonnes, would also be inaugurtaed into space. Two more cargo flights and two manned missions were planned in 2022.
If the International Space Station (ISS) ceased to operate as was planned in the next few years, China would be the only country still operating a permanent outpost in space. (dpa/NAN)