Sixth China crew flight highlights space station growth plans

Special to, November 8, 2023


By Richard Fisher

On Oct. 26, from its Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island, China launched its Shenzhou-17 spacecraft, taking its 6th crew of three astronauts to its Tiangong Space Station.

The launch also highlights China’s plans for growing this space station.

An April 2022 Chinese image of a possible configuration for an expanded Chinese Tiangong Space Station. / Chinese Internet

This 6th crew mission was led by People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Senior Colonel (Brigadier General) and former fighter pilot Tang Hongbo, who was also part of the first Shenzhou-12 mission to the Tiangong in September 2021.

He was joined by two first-time spaceflight former PLAAF pilots Tang Shenjie and Jiang Xinlin.

On Oct. 30th the three astronauts of the 5th Tiangong crew returned to Earth.

In total, 18 Chinese astronauts since 2021 have flown on Tiangong, which is now due to start expanding.

During an Oct. 4 briefing at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan, an official from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) explained that the Tiangong space station would soon expand from three to six main modules.

This will increase its mass to 180 tons with six docking stations for crew or cargo craft, extend its service life to 15 years and allow an increase in crew from 3 to 6 at a time.

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