Upcoming Mission: Shenzhou-17 Crew set to Launch towards Tiangong Space Station

China is set to launch the crewed Shenzhou-17 mission to the Tiangong Space Station on October 26th. The mission will begin the handover from the previous crew to the new crew, who will be responsible for operating the station. The crew for this mission was announced just a day before the launch, and it includes Commander Tang Hongbo, Operator Tang Shengjie, and System Operator Jiang Xinlin.

Tang Hongbo, who will be the commander of the mission, is no stranger to space travel. This will be his second spaceflight, with his first being the Shenzhou-12 mission in 2021. Tang joined the astronaut corps of China in 2010 and is a member and fighter pilot of the People’s Liberation Army. He will be the first taikonaut to visit the Tiangong Station twice. Tang has already spent a significant amount of time in space, with his previous mission lasting 92 days, 4 hours, and 11 minutes.

Tang Shengjie, a fighter pilot in the PLA Air Force, will join the mission as a crew member. This will be his first spaceflight, and he is one of two rookie members on this mission. Jiang Xinlin, another pilot for the PLA Air Force, will be the third member of the crew. Like Tang Shengjie, this will also be Jiang’s first spaceflight.

The spacecraft chosen for this mission is the Shenzhou, which translates to “divinite boat.” It is heavily inspired by the Russian Soyuz capsule and has completed several flights since its first flight in 1999. The Shenzhou spacecraft has a mass of about 7,840 kilograms and is approximately 9.25 meters long and 2.8 meters in diameter. It can accommodate up to three people for low-Earth orbit travel and has a maximum time in space of about 183 days. The spacecraft consists of three modules: the orbital module, the reentry module, and the service module.

The Tiangong Space Station will be the destination for the Shenzhou-17 spacecraft. The station is designed to operate for up to 15 years and is floating in low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 389 kilometers. It will serve as a research facility for China’s space program and will be manned by various crews over its operational lifespan.

The rocket chosen for this mission is the Chang Zheng 2F, which has a 100% success rate and is primarily used to launch the Shenzhou spacecraft to low-Earth orbit. The rocket stands 62 meters tall and has a liftoff mass of 464,000 kilograms. It can lift 8,400 kilograms into orbit. The rocket’s boosters provide about 6,512 kN of thrust at liftoff before decoupling after approximately 155 seconds. The second stage of the rocket will burn for about 460 seconds before releasing the Shenzhou-17 spacecraft for its final journey to the Tiangong Space Station.

Once docked at the station, the handover between crews will begin, with the Shenzhou-17 crew taking over the operation of the station. The previous crew from the Shenzhou-16 mission will then depart the station and return to Earth.

The launch of the Shenzhou-17 mission marks another significant milestone in China’s space program. With the crewed Tiangong Space Station now operational, China is solidifying its position as a major player in space exploration and research. The success of this mission will pave the way for future missions and further advancements in China’s space capabilities.