China launches Shenzhou-18 manned mission, sending three-member crew to space

Published Apr 27, 2024


China launched the Shenzhou-18 manned spaceship on Thursday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) announced.

A Long March-2F carrier rocket carrying the Shenzhou-18 spacecraft with three Chinese astronauts blasted off at 8:59 p.m. Beijing Time.

About 10 minutes later, the spacecraft separated from the rocket and entered the planned orbit. The spacecraft will conduct autonomous, fast rendezvous and docking with the space station. The Shenzhou-18 crew will conduct in-orbit rotation with the Shenzhou-17 crew.

Watch the video here.

The mission is China's first manned mission to the space station this year, the third since the space station entered application and development phase, China's 32nd manned flight into space, and the 518th flight mission of the Long March series rockets.

The mission marks China's 13th manned spaceflight mission since the launch of the manned space program and represents the first manned mission to the China Space Station this year.

The Shenzhou-18 crew waves to the crowd at a send-off ceremony, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, northwest China, April 25, 2024. Picture: Supplied / CFP

A send-off ceremony for the Shenzhou-18 crew was held earlier on Thursday at the launch centre. Click here to watch the rebroadcast.

The three-member crew is scheduled to stay at the China Space Station for about six months and return to the Dongfeng landing site in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in late October.

About the crew

Members of the Shenzhou-18 crew, Ye Guangfu (C), Li Cong (R) and Li Guangsu. Picture: Supplied / CMSA

Astronauts Ye Guangfu, Li Cong and Li Guangsu are members of the Shenzhou-18 crew. Ye was also a crew member of China's Shenzhou-13 mission. Both Li Cong and Li Guangsu are part of the country's third batch of astronauts, and the Shenzhou-18 mission is their first flight mission. All three of them were born in the 1980s.

During their stay in orbit, the Shenzhou-18 crew will receive the Tianzhou-8 cargo ship and the Shenzhou-19 crewed spaceship.

Check out the profile of the Shenzhou-18 crew members.

About the missions

The Shenzhou-18 crew will carry out six cargo outbound deliveries via the station's cargo airlock module and implement two to three extravehicular activities (EVAs). During the EVAs, the astronauts will install space debris protection reinforcements for extravehicular piping, cables and critical equipment and carry out extravehicular inspections, as appropriate, to further safeguard the safety of the China Space Station, the CMSA announced on Wednesday.

The crew will utilize the scientific experiment cabinets and extravehicular payloads to carry out more than 90 experiments in the fields of basic physics in microgravity, space material science, space life science, space medicine and space technology.

"During the Shenzhou-18 mission, experimental equipment and related samples will be taken to space, and the country's first in-orbit aquatic ecological research project will be implemented. Using zebrafish and hornwort to establish a self-cycling aquatic ecosystem in orbit, the project aims to make a breakthrough in the cultivation of vertebrates in space," Lin Xiqiang, deputy director of the CMSA, said on Wednesday.

"The world's first in-orbit stem cell study on the plant's stem tips will be made to reveal the mechanism of plant evolutionary adaptation to gravity and provide theoretical support for space cropping," Lin added.