China’s next manned spaceflight — the Shenzhou XIV mission — will soon be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
The agency said in a brief released on Sunday that a Long March 2F carrier rocket, with the Shenzhou XIV spacecraft on top of it, was moved to the launch tower that morning and will undergo prelaunch tests.
It said the launch is scheduled to take place in the coming days.
The Shenzhou XIV mission will become the country’s ninth manned spaceflight, with its three-member crew becoming the third group of occupants of the Tiangong space station. They are scheduled to stay inside the massive orbiting outpost for six months until the end of this year.
Before them, the Shenzhou XII and XIII crews, both with three members, had lived inside the Tiangong, which is traveling in a low-Earth orbit about 400 kilometers above the Earth. The Shenzhou XIII crew returned mid-April.
Earlier this month, the Tianzhou 4 cargo spacecraft was launched by a Long March 7 rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, transporting nearly 6 metric tons of propellants and materials to the Tiangong station.
Currently, Tiangong consists of the Tianhe core module, the Tianzhou 3 and the Tianzhou 4.
In July, the station’s first lab component — Wentian, or Quest for the Heavens — will be launched, while the second lab named Mengtian, or Dreaming of the Heavens, will be sent to dock with the station in October. After they are connected with the Tiangong, the station will form a T-shaped structure.
After the space labs, the Tianzhou 5 cargo craft and the Shenzhou XV crew are scheduled to arrive at the massive orbiting outpost around the end of the year, according to mission officials.