China successfully launched two astronauts into space on Monday morning for a 30-day stay aboard the Tiangong-2 space station.
Veteran Chinese astronaut Jing Haipeng and rookie Chen Dong lifted off aboard the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft from Jiunquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. The Long March 2F booster appeared to perform flawlessly in a launch shown live around the world.
Shenzhou-11 is now in orbit and has deployed its two solar arrays as planned. Chinese officials said the spacecraft is performing as planned. The astronauts will dock with the space station two days from now.
Haipeng, 50, previously flew aboard Shenzhou 7, which was a three-day mission conducted in 2008, and commanded Shenzhou-9 on a 13-day flight to the Tiangong-1 space station in 20012. This is the first flight for Dong, 37.
Tiangong-2 is similar to its predecessor in size and design. It is about half the size of the 20-meter long Salyut 1 space station flown by the Soviet Union in the early 1970’s.
China plans to launch the core of a multi-module space station around 2018. Construction of the facility is expected to be complete four years later.
This mission is the sixth Shenzhou flight with a crew aboard for the three-seat spacecraft, which resembles the Russian Soyuz transport in design. It is the first mission with a crew aboard since Shenzhou-10 in June 2013.