China confirmed Thursday that at 9:22 a.m. (1:22 GMT) three astronauts launched to its under-construction space station, on a three-month mission.
The three astronauts, all male, will take off from Jiuquan Base in the Gobi Desert (northwest), the space agency responsible for human spaceflight (CMSA) announced at a press conference.
It will take place aboard the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft, propelled by a Long March 2F rocket, which will dock at Tianhe (“Heavenly Harmony”), the only unit of the station already in space.
The control center and home of astronauts, Tianhe was placed in late April in low Earth orbit (350-390 km above sea level).
On board, the astronauts will not be idle: maintenance, equipment installation, spacewalks, preparing for upcoming construction missions and setting up future crews.
The Shenzhou-12 mission is the third launch of the 11 that will be required to build the station between 2021 and 2022. Altogether, four manned missions are planned.
In addition to the already existing Tianhe, the remaining two units – which will be laboratories – are expected to be sent into space next year.
These will make it possible to conduct experiments in biotechnology, medicine, astronomy or space technologies.
In the context of tension with the West, the success of the mission is a matter of prestige for Beijing preparing to celebrate the 1he is July Centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.