China launches three astronauts to its space station

Earlier today China successfully launched a three-person crew to its Tiangong-3 space station, its Long March 2F rocket lifting off from its Jiuquan spaceport in the northwest of China.

No word on where the four strap-on boosters, the payload fairing, the core stages, and the upper stage crashed inside China, using very toxic hypergolic fuels. This new crew will replace the present crew, who are completing a six-month tour. The new crew will complete a similar-length mission.

The leaders in the 2024 launch race:

42 SpaceX
17 China
6 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads the rest of the world combined in successful launches 49 to 29, while SpaceX by itself still leads the rest of the world, including other American companies, 42 to 36.

Chinese astronauts do spacewalk to repair Tiangong-3 solar panel

Two Chinese astronauts yesterday completed a 7.5 hour spacewalk on that country’s Tiangong-3 space station to test a repair technique to what the state-run press said was minor damage on a solar panel from micrometeorites.

The EVA posed new challenges for the astronauts, according to Dong Nengli, deputy chief designer of China’s human spaceflight program. “For the previous extravehicular activities, the major tasks for astronauts were to install and check. This round of extravehicular activities on Thursday we call experimental servicing,” Dong told CCTV. “This time the astronauts operated on one of the solar wings. It is flexible, to a certain extent, and also very thin, which limits the space of operation to a certain degree,” Dong said.

Dong added that the successful EVA meant the teams had mastered the ability for some extravehicular repairs. Success was thus, “laying a solid foundation for us to guarantee the space station’s safety and reliability in the future.”

It must be noted that no specific details about what was done were provided, nor did the short video released by China showing highlights of the spacewalk show the specific repair work.

Nonetheless, there is an aspect of China’s space station that makes it a far more powerful national symbol than ISS: It is China’s alone, built, launched, occupied, and maintained by China alone. It fuels national pride in a way that ISS never has, because President Bill Clinton decided to use it in the 1990s for foreign policy concerns by giving the Russians an equal partnership. Neither the U.S. nor Russia have obtained the same kind of prestige at home and abroad because neither really built ISS on their own. It was a shared effort, which meant neither could claim it.

China delays till ’25 the launch of its Hubble-class optical space telescope

China today revealed that it is delaying the the launch of its Xuntian space telescope from early next year to 2025.

Zhan Hu, project scientist of Xuntian space telescope system, revealed that the delay was necessary for the team to finalize a preflight “engineering qualification model.” This model will undergo rigorous performance tests early next year. Despite the setback, China is making significant strides by domestically developing all five instruments for Xuntian, a first for the country, Scientific American reported.

The optical telescope, designed to somewhat comparable to Hubble, is intended to fly close to China’s Tiangong-3 space station where astronauts will periodically fly over to do maintenance and repair. Its primary mirror, two meters in diameter, is only slightly smaller than Hubble’s 2.4 meter mirror.

The article says the launch was supposed to happen before the end of this year, but that is incorrect. The launch has been targeting the spring of 2024 since February.

During landing Shenzhou’s single parachute appeared damaged

A closer look at imagery during the descent by parachute of China’s manned Shenzhou capsule, bringing three astronauts back from Tiangong-3 after a five month mission on October 31, 2023, shows that the capsule’s single parachute had a ripped hole.

In some of the footage, a patch of blue sky can be seen through the red-and-white-banded parachute. Inside the capsule were Shenzhou 16 mission commander Jing Haipeng and crewmates Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao — the latter pair returning to Earth after their first mission to space.

Such a sizable hole, which was visible before a white cloud of vented propellant left the Shenzhou capsule, has not been reported during earlier missions. It did not, however, seem to affect operations.

The landing however was very rough, with the capsule tumbling several times after hitting the ground.

Considering that China presently as three astronauts on Tiangong-3 that have to come home in their own Shenzhou capsule, using this same parachute system, finding out what happened seems imperative. Developing its next generation larger capsule, which will return using three parachutes, also appears essential.

Chinese crew completes five-month mission on Tiangong-3 after return to Earth

The new colonial movement: A three-man Chinese crew successfully landed today in north China in their Shenzhou capsule, completing a five-month mission on the Tiangong-3 space station.

The full mission length was 154 days. China claims that one of the astronauts was a civilian, but that really means nothing considering the security required to participate in these missions.

The crew that has taken over on Tiangong-3 are expected to do a mission of comparable length, probably pushing the length to six-months.

China launches new three-man crew to its Tiangong-3 space station

The new colonial movement: China today successfully used its Long March 2F rocket to place a Shenzhou manned capsule into orbit, carrying a new three-man crew to its Tiangong-3 space station and lifting off from its Jiuquan spaceport in northwest China.

Though relatively little specific information about the crew’s mission has been revealed, it is expected they will do a six month mission, as have previous crews, and conduct spacewalks and maintenance on the station. Meanwhile, the present crew on board will spend about a week transferring duties to the new crew, and then return to Earth after completing its own six-month mission.

No word on where the Long March 2F first stage and its four side boosters crashed in the interior of China, all of which use toxic hypergolic fuels.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

76 SpaceX
48 China
13 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise still leads China 88 to 48 in successful launches, and the entire world combined 88 to 76. SpaceX by itself is now tied at 76 with the rest of the world (excluding American companies).

Tianzhou unmanned freighter completes month-long free flight, re-docks with Tiangong-3

Engineers today successfully re-docked a Tianzhou unmanned freighter to China’s Tiangong-3 space station after 33 days flying in formation with the station.

As is usual, China released no information about the reasoning behind this free flight, though some reasons are obvious. The station has two docking ports, and during that 33-day time period the station also completed a crew swap, with one Shenzhou capsule docking with three new astronauts while the previous crew and its Shenzhou capsule was still docked. The Tianzhou freighter had to undock to provide a port during this time period for the two manned capsules.

This formation free flight and docking was also likely testing the kind of routine maneuvers China plans to do when it launches its Hubble-class optical space telescope next year. That telescope will fly freely near the station during most of its operations. For maintenance and repair however it is my understanding that it will be brought back to the station and docked with it. The just completed independent flight of the Tianzhou freighter demonstrated this capability.

Three astronauts return to Earth safely from China’s Tiangong-3 space station

After completing six months in space on China7s Tiangong-3 space station, three astronauts safely returned to Earth yesterday, with their Shenzhou capsule touching down in inner Mongolia.

This mission was the first full six month mission on the station. During their mission they completed four spacewalks. Though little was published about what was accomplished on those EVAs, it is likely it involved completing the construction of the station as well as installing some exterior experiments.

Chinese launch yesterday set record for number of humans in space

The launch yesterday of three Chinese astronauts to that country’s Tiangong-3 space station established a new record, seventeen, for the number of humans in space.

The launch of the next crew to China’s Tiangong space station late Monday (U.S. time) added three astronauts to the population of humans in space, which reached a record number of 17 people in orbit — six Chinese citizens, five Americans, three Russians, two Saudis, and one Emirati astronaut.

The arrival of Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu, and Gai Haichao in space following their launch atop a Long March rocket broke the previous record of 14 people in orbit at one time.

Meanwhile, the four-person crew of the commercial AX-2 mission to ISS, has undocked from ISS, with SpaceX’s Freedom capsule expected to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 11:09 pm (Eastern) tonight.

China sends a new crew to its Tiangong-3 space station

Using its Long March 2F rocket, China today (May 30th in China) sent a new three-man crew to its Tiangong-3 space station for a five month mission.

The launch was from the Juiquan spaceport in the interior of China, so both the four side strap-on boosters as well as the core stage crashed somewhere in China. No word of any damage or injuries.

The Shenzhou capsule is expected to dock with the station about six hours after launch. The old crew’s stay will overlap with this new crew for a short time before returning to Earth.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

35 SpaceX
20 China
8 Russia
5 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 40 to 20 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 40 to 36. SpaceX alone now trials the rest of the world combined 35 to 36, but trails the entire world including American companies 35 to 41.

China unveils next Shenzhou launch date and crew to its space station

China today revealed the next three-man crew to occupy its Tiangong-3 space station, with a planned launch in a Shenzhou crew capsule targeting May 30, 2023, Chinese time.

Because of time differences, that launch will occur tonight at 6:28 pm tonight, Pacific time. The rocket will be a Long March 2F taking off from China’s western interior Jiuquan spaceport. The rocket’s lower stages will therefore crash somewhere in China.

The crew will remain on board the station for five months, and with one astronaut the first Chinese to fly in space four times.

China launches cargo freighter to its Tiangong-3 space station

Using its Long March 7 rocket launching from its coastal Wenchang spaceport, China today successfully placed into orbit a Tianzhou cargo freighter to resupply the Tiangong-3 space station.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race:

29 SpaceX (with a launch scheduled for later today)
17 China
6 Russia
4 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 33 to 17 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 33 to 29.

April 5, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.



  • Tianzhou freighter will fly in formation with China’s Tiangong-3 space station
  • The plan is to periodically redock the freighter to the station “when inventories stored inside are needed.” Jay wonders whether this is a test of the similar formation flying that will be required when China’s space telescope arrives next year to orbit near the station for periodic maintenance and repair. I think he is correct.

January 18, 2023 Quick space links

Courtesy of Jay, BtB’s intrepid stringer.





China’s possible plans for expanding Tiangong-3

Though the plans have apparently not been approved, the designers of China’s Tiangong-3 space station are now considering expanding the station with additional large modules.

“Following our current design, we can continue to launch an extension module to dock with the forward section of the space station, and the extension module can carry a new hub for docking with the subsequent space vehicles,” [Wang Xiang, commander of the space station system at the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST)] told CCTV following the return to Earth of the Shenzhou-14 crew Dec. 4.

With a new docking hub, the Chinese would actually have the potential of doubling the station’s size by duplicating its present configuration with one central module (with the hub) and two side modules.

The station’s design, an upgrade of the Soviet Union’s Mir station, also allows for relatively easy replacement of modules as they age. Though the station only has a planned ten-year life, do not be surprised if it remains operational for many decades beyond that.

China launches Tianzhou freighter to Tiangong-3 space station

Earlier today China successfully used its Long March 7 rocket to launch the fifth Tianzhou freighter to its Tiangong-3 space station.

At 12:10 p.m., Tianzhou-5 conducted a fast automated rendezvous and docking at the rear docking port of the space station’s core module Tianhe. This is the first time that China’s cargo craft has completed a fast automated rendezvous and docking in about two hours, setting a world record, according to Pan Weizhen, a designer of the cargo craft system from the China Academy of Space Technology.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

52 SpaceX
49 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 75 to 49 in the national rankings, and trails the rest of the world combined 77 to 75.

Tianzhou-4 freighter undocks from Tiangong-3, while Tianzhou-5 prepares for launch

Chinese engineers have undocked the Tianzhou-4 unmanned freighter from their Tiangong-3 space station, even as other engineers complete the stacking of Tianzhou-5 on its rocket and move it to its launch site.

Tianzhou-4 remains in orbit. At some point it will be de-orbited to burn up over the ocean, but China’s state-run press has not said when. In the past engineers have kept these cargo freighters in orbit after undocking for long periods in order to test their capabilities.

Though the launch date for Tianzhou-5 on its Long March 7 rocket was also not revealed by today’s press report, earlier reports suggest the launch is targeting November 12th.

Mengtian moved to its permanent port on Tiangong-3

Tiangong-3 station, when completed

Chinese engineers today successfully shifted the new Mengtian module from its docking port to its permanent port to the side, thus completing the assembly of the major components of the Tiangong-3 space station. Shortly thereafter the six astronauts on board the station opened the hatch and entered the module.

The graphic to the right shows the station’s final arrangement, T-shaped. The station however is not fully complete, as the large vertical solar panels have not yet been installed. Based on past station work, these will probably have to be shipped up later, and installed during space walks.

Mengtian module docks with China’s Tiangong-3 space station

Tiangong-3 station, when completed

The new Mengtian module has docked with the main port of China’s Tiangong-3 space station.

The graphic to the right shows the planned design of the station. Mengtian however is not yet in its side port as shown, but in the main docking port in line with the core module where a Shenzhou crew capsule is shown docked. At some point soon the astronauts on board will use a small robot arm to move Mengtian from the main port to its side port. (This system is very similar to one the Russian’s used on Mir.)

Furthermore, the large vertically oriented solar panels have not yet been installed on the station. These will likely need to be delivered, and require spacewalks to deploy.

China’s Long March 5B rocket with new space station module is now at launchpad

China’s Long March 5B rocket had now been rolled out to its launchpad, carrying the new Mengtian module for China’s Tiangong-3 space station.

The launch is presently scheduled for October 31, 2022. Assuming China has not upgraded the engines on the rocket’s core stage, that stage will tumble back to Earth, uncontrolled, sometime in the following week. Since it is large enough to survive re-entry, it will hit the ground, thus threatening every habitable location under its orbital path. By allowing this to happen China violates the Outer Space Treaty, to which it is a signatory.

Nor will this likely be the last time China does this. Though this module completes China’s station, as presently designed, this will not be the last Long March 5B launch. China plans to use it put its Hubble-class space telescope into orbit, as well as other things.

September 15, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay, who trolls Twitter so I don’t have to.

September 13, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of stringer Jay.

September 12, 2022 Quick space links

Courtesy of stringer Jay.

Chinese astronauts complete first spacewalk using new Wentian module

The new colonial movement: Chinese astronauts yesterday completed their first spacewalk using the airlock on the new Wentian module that was recently launched to that nation’s Tiangong-3 space station.

The spacewalk lasted six hours, and was mostly designed to test the airlock itself as well as do the first tests of Wentian’s own robot arm. It appears they also installed an “extended pump set”, whatever that is, and did other work near the hatch. More here.

August 31, 2022 Quick space links

Thanks to BtB’s stringer Jay.

That’s nice, but years have passed and the first Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft, Tenacity, has still not flown. It is well past time for this company to finally get off the ground.

This also be the first spacewalk using the airlock on the space station’s new Wentian module.

It appears to be built by the pseudo-company Orienspace.

August 24, 2022 Quick space links

Links courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.

Indian research project for China’s space station threatened by Chinese-India military conflict

A science instrument from India, slated to fly on a Chinese rocket to China’s Tiangong-3 space station, is now threatened by the military tensions between the two nations.

The project, called Spectrographic Investigation of Nebular Gas (SING), also involves collaboration with the [India] Institute of Astronomy [IIA], Russian Academy of Sciences, and has been designed and developed by research students at the IIA. The plan is to have it ready by the year end so that it can be launched in the summer of 2023. Though the plan is on schedule, scientists at the IIA are now consulting with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as well as the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on whether they are in the clear to go ahead with the project.

Chinese and Indian troops have been engaged in a prolonged stand-off in eastern Ladakh. The two sides have so far held 16 rounds of Corps Commander-level talks to resolve the stand-off, which erupted on May 5, 2020, following a violent clash in the Pangong lake area.

It appears the Indian government is having second thoughts about this cooperative project. After decades of naive trust in the communists from both Russia and China, it seems India has finally realized the communists really have little interest in helping India, being more focused on using it for good PR while it steals Indian technology. Moreover, India now realizes that China has become a dangerous neighbor, willing to use its newfound power violently at the border between the two countries.

August 16, 2022 Quick space links

Tiangong-3 in orbit
Click to see full image.

Some quickie stories worth noting, most provided by stringer Jay:

August 14, 2022 Quick space links

Some weekend news from BtB’s top stringer, Jay.

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