The year 2022 has been a fruitful year for China's space station. The Shenzhou-15 mission launched in November concluded the last stage of the space station's construction and kicked off the first stage of its application and development.
In 2022, China carried out six missions to construct its first space station.
On May 10, the Tianzhou-4 cargo spacecraft was successfully sent into space. It adopted the fast-docking technology, and took only about seven hours to dock with the space station. The cargo spacecraft brought living supplies, maintenance spare parts and research equipment for the subsequent Shenzhou-14 mission to the space station.
On June 5, China launched the Shenzhou-14 crewed mission, sending three Chinese astronauts - Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe - to the space station. The crew stayed in orbit for six months and returned to Earth on December 4. During their time in orbit, the Shenzhou-14 crew gave a lecture from the space station and carried out three extravehicular activities missions.
The country launched the first lab module Wentian on July 24 and the second lab module Mengtian on October 31. The two lab modules provide a platform for scientific experiments in space.
On November 12, another cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-5 was sent into space and docked with the space station only about two hours after its launch, the fastest time such an operation has ever been completed. It carried essential supplies for the Shenzhou-15 crew and equipment for scientific experiments.
Last but not least, the country launched the Shenzhou-15 manned spaceship on November 29, with astronauts Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu on board. The Shenzhou-14 astronauts at the space station welcomed the Shenzhou-15 crew upon their arrival. This was the first crew handover at China's space station. The Shenzhou-15 crew will stay in orbit for six months and carry out tests related to the long-term residence at the space station.
Currently, the space station is in a T-shaped formation, which consists of the Tianhe core module and Wentian and Mengtian lab modules.
With the launch of the Shenzhou-15 mission, the space station has entered the stage of application and development, which will last for more than 10 years.
As for future plans, a number of space science application projects jointly selected by China and international organizations are being implemented as planned, and related payloads will be launched to get into the space station for experiments next year.
In the future, international astronauts and scientists will also have the opportunity to work and live at the space station.
(Cover image by Yu Peng)