China is set to launch its next manned mission, the Shenzhou XVI, in the coming days to transport three astronauts to the Tiangong space station.
The spacecraft and its carrier, a Long March 2F rocket, were moved to the service tower on Monday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China’s Gobi Desert. The Shenzhou XVI will become the first crewed mission to visit Tiangong this year and the first to arrive since its construction was completed by the Shenzhou XIV and XV crews. The crew members, whose names have yet to be disclosed, will take over the massive orbital outpost from their peers in the Shenzhou XV. By the end of May, Fei’s team will have stayed in orbit for six months. Pang Zhihao, an expert on space exploration technology and a renowned writer on spaceflight, predicts that the Shenzhou XVI crew will include new faces – the country’s third generation of astronauts.