Two Chinese astronauts to live onboard the Tiangong 2 space station for 30 days.
The Shenzhou 11 mission launched off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center which is at the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China at 7:30 am (5:30 BDT) with the objective to explore space on board a Long March-2F carrier rocket.
The two Chinese astronauts are expected to spend 30 days in space testing the station which is the longest stay in space by two Chinese astronauts, in preparation for the start of full operations in 2022.
The spacecraft will dock with orbiting Tiangong 2, which is also known as Heavenly Palace space station facility precursor within two days.
There the astronauts will conduct experiments in medicine and various space-related technologies including examination of plant growth in space, and test systems and processes in preparation for the launching of the station’s core module in 2018. With the attachment of the two experiment modules, the entire station is designed to begin full operations in 2022 and aims to be operational for at least a decade.
The astronauts on this latest mission were Jing Haipeng, 49, who has already been to space twice, and 37-year-old Chen Dong, Jing, who turns 50 during his time in space.
In a congratulatory note, President Xi Jinping said he hoped they would “vigorously advance the spirit of space travel and that this launch mission would allow China to take larger and further steps in space exploration and make new contributions to building up China as a space power.”
With immense funding being funneled into their space program initiative, China plans to launch at least 20 space missions this year.
China is only the third country to succeed in crewed space travel after Russia and the US.
In 2013 it successfully piloted its un-crewed Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, the rover on the Moon. As usual, there was much controversy with the launch of China’s space program as the US had concerns over the militaristic nature of its space ambitions.
China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003. Chinese officials are now looking to expand their program by offering to help finance other countries’ missions to Tiangong 2. They have also opened a massive fourth spacecraft launch site at Wenchang in China’s southernmost island province of Hainan in June.
Initiated with the launch of the new Long March 7 rocket which was hailed as a breakthrough since it uses safer, more environmentally friendly fuels.