China on Tuesday sent three astronauts to its now fully operational space station as part of crew rotation, according to state media, in the fifth manned mission to the Chinese space outpost since 2021.
The spacecraft, Shenzhou-16, or “Divine Vessel”, and its three passengers lifted off atop a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert in northwest China at 9.31 a.m. (0131 GMT).
The astronauts on Shenzhou-16 will replace the three-member crew of the Shenzhou-15 that arrived at the space station late in November.
The space station, comprising three modules, was completed at the end of last year after a total of 11 crewed and uncrewed missions since April 2021 initiated by the launch of the first and biggest module – the station’s main living quarters.
China has already announced plans to expand its permanently inhabited space outpost, with the next module slated to dock with the current T-shaped space station to create a cross-shaped structure.
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