On Sunday, China launched a spacecraft carrying three astronauts to the Chinese space station, which is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-14, or “Divine Vessel” in Chinese, launched at 10:44 a.m. (0244 GMT) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, according to a live broadcast on state television.

Last year, the first and largest of the space station’s three modules, Tianhe, the visiting astronauts’ living quarters, was launched into orbit. The modules Wentian and Mengtian, which will dock with Tianhe to form a T-shaped structure, will be deployed in July and October, respectively.

Chen Dong, 43, and his teammates Liu Yang, 43, and Cai Xuzhe, 46, all from China’s second batch of astronauts, will live and work on the space station for six months until returning to Earth in December when the Shenzhou-15 crew arrives.

The rendezvous, docking, and integration of Wentian and Mengtian with the core module will be overseen by former air force pilot Chen with Liu, China’s first female astronaut in space a decade ago, and space mission debutant Cai.

They’ll also install equipment both inside and outside the space station, as well as conduct a variety of scientific experiments.

“The Shenzhou-14 mission is a critical struggle in China’s space station building,” Chen said at a press briefing in Jiuquan on Saturday. “The task will be more difficult, there will be more problems, and there will be more challenges.”

The space station is expected to last at least ten years. (Ryan Woo contributed reporting; Muralikumar Anantharaman and William Mallard edited the piece.)


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