Chinese astronauts dock at space station

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (left) and Chen Dong seen arriving at the Tiangong-2 space station yesterday in a live feed that was telecast on state television. This is Mr Jing's third space mission and Mr Chen's first. They will remain at the spac
Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (left) and Chen Dong seen arriving at the Tiangong-2 space station yesterday in a live feed that was telecast on state television. This is Mr Jing's third space mission and Mr Chen's first. They will remain at the space lab for 30 days.PHOTO: XINHUA

SHANGHAI • China's Shenzhou-11 spacecraft has successfully docked with China's Tiangong-2 space station, and two astronauts have entered the lab, China's official news agency Xinhua said yesterday.

Mission commander Jing Haipeng was the first to float into the Tiangong-2 (Heavenly Palace) laboratory, Xinhua said, followed by Mr Chen Dong. The pair "extended greetings to all the people of the nation", it said.

The spacecraft and orbiting lab successfully docked at about 3am yesterday while the astronauts entered the research facility around three hours later.

China is the third country after the United States and Russia to complete space rendezvous and docking procedures, Xinhua said.

According to the mission schedule, the astronauts will remain in the space station for 30 days and spend 33 days in space, making the mission the longest in space so far for China.

In a manned space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with the Tiangong-1 space lab.

The two astronauts in the current mission have been sleeping well and are in good physical and mental shape. The mission is carrying about 100 kinds of food so they can have different combinations for their meals.

If all goes well, China will launch the unpiloted Tianzhou-1 cargo ship next spring to autonomously dock with Tiangong-2.

Tianzhou-1 will be capable of automatically transferring propellants, a crucial requirement for space station assembly and maintenance, according to a report by CBS. "That will further their docking capabilities needed for the larger space station," Professor Johnson Freese at the Naval War College and an expert on China's space programme, was quoted as saying by CBS.

"I think this will be their last big technology test phase before going to their large space station," he said, referring to the permanent space station, which China hopes to send into orbit in 2022.

China is pouring billions into its military-run space programme and working to catch up with the United States and Europe.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese astronauts dock at space station'. Print Edition | Subscribe