Science

China’s Shenzhou 14 is on standby for emergency launch at the space station

China has just launched what is slated to be its longest manned mission to date, but the next spacecraft in the series is ready to blast off in case the Shenzhou 13 astronauts need to be rescued.

Shenzhou 13 took off on October 15, and Commander Zhai Zhigang and his colleagues Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu arrived at the Tianhe orbital module of the Tiangong space station 6.5 hours later. Back on the ground at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, Shenzhou 14 and its Long March 2F launch vehicle are already on standby.

“The assembly and testing of Shenzhou 14 has been completed at the base, so the spacecraft is now on standby, ready for a rapid launch and emergency rescue operation,” said Jia Shijin, chief designer of the system. Manned spacecraft from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), told CCTV.

Related: The Latest News on China’s Space Program

Zhai, Wang and Ye are expected to stay aboard Tianhe, which will serve as the core of the three-module station after additional launches, for six months. During this time they will carry out two to three extravehicular activities, or space walks, and carry out a series of scientific and technological experiments. But Shenzhou 14 will be ready to help in case a problem like the malfunction of the spacecraft or the impact of debris or micrometeorites puts the crew in danger.

The Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), the developer of the Long March 2F launcher, told the Chinese newspaper Global Times that in an emergency, all participants required for an emergency launch must be present within 48 hours. hours and be able to launch within nine days.

The emergency planning is reminiscent of NASA’s “Launch On Need” missions planned to rescue space shuttle crews if their vehicles were damaged in orbit. These standby mission preparations are now standard practice for China’s space station operations. Shenzhou 13 was also on standby during the Shenzhou 12 mission, which ran from June to September.

The Long March 2F carrying Shenzhou 13 shortly before launch on October 15, 2021. (Image credit: CMSE on weibo / Yang Jun)

Tianhe is the central module of the space station, providing accommodation for the crew and propulsion for the orbital outpost, as well as a docking center that allows multiple spacecraft to dock with it. Currently, Tianhe has the Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft docked at its stern and Tianzhou 2 in the forward port of the docking center. Shenzhou 13 conducted China’s first radial encounter and docking, approaching Tianhe from below with respect to Earth.

If there are no emergencies, Shenzhou 14 will launch with its own crew after March 2022, when Shenzhou 13 returns to Earth. The Shenzhou 14 mission will monitor the arrival of two new space station modules to join Tianhe.

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