Zhang Lu, Fei Junlong and Deng Qingming (left to right): They are supposed to stay in space for six months
Photo: Li Gang / picture alliance/dpa/XinHua
China has sent three astronauts on a six-month mission to its newly built Tiangong space station - officially launching operations at the second permanently inhabited outpost in low Earth orbit after the NASA-led International Space Station.
The Shenzhou-15 spacecraft - "Divine Ship" - carrying the three astronauts on top of a Long March 2F rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in northwest China at 4:08 p.m. German time (1:08 p.m. local time). , as reported by state television.
The ship reached orbit around nine minutes after launch.
Minutes later, the solar panels were unfolded.
If everything goes according to plan, the "Shenzhou 15" will later dock with the space station in an automated maneuver.
The crew consists of astronauts Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu.
They are to live in the newly completed space station for five days with their colleagues Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe.
The current crew will then return to Earth.
The new crew will stay in the space station for around six months.
China intends to operate its "heavenly palace" for around ten years.
The station is designed to last at least a decade, and the astronauts living there are expected to conduct over 1,000 scientific experiments — from studying how plants adapt in space to how liquids behave in microgravity.
For its ambitious goals, the People's Republic has invested billions in the space program, which is managed by the military.
China is already successfully operating a reconnaissance vehicle on Mars.
The country took rocks from the moon and was the first nation to land a spaceship on the far side of the moon.
And China is pursuing other ambitious goals in space.
According to experts, a reusable spaceship may be used by 2025.
Rock samples from the polar regions of the moon are to be brought to earth over the next five years.
Plans for a research station on the moon are also being worked out with Russia.