China launched three astronauts to its now fully operational space station on Tuesday as part of crew rotation, the fifth manned expedition to the Chinese space outpost since 2021, according to official media.
The spacecraft, Shenzhou-16, or “Divine Vessel,” and its three passengers launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China’s Gobi Desert at 9:31 a.m. (0131 GMT) on a Long March-2F rocket.
The Shenzhou-16 astronauts will replace the three-person crew of the Shenzhou-15, who arrived at the space station in late November.
Leading the Shenzhou-16 mission was Jing Haipeng, 56, a senior spacecraft pilot from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. He had traveled to space three times before, including two trips as a mission commander.
Jing flew with Zhu Yangzhu and Gui Haichao, both 36 and part of China’s third batch of astronauts. The mission is Zhu’s and Gui’s first spaceflight.
Former military university professor Zhu will serve as spaceflight engineer while Gui, a professor at Beihang University, will serve as the payload specialist on the mission, managing science experiments at the space station.
This year, Beijing is slated to launch one more crewed expedition to the orbiting station.
China is also planning to launch a space telescope the size of a huge bus by the end of 2023.
The orbiting telescope, known as Xuntian, or “Surveying the Heavens” in Chinese, will have a field of vision 350 times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched 33 years ago.