China launches three-member Shenzhou-18 crew to its space station

China has launched a three-member crew to its orbiting space station as part of its ambitious programme that aims to put astronauts on the Moon by 2030.

The Shenzhou-18 spacecraft lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on the edge of the Gobi Desert in north-western China atop a Long March 2-F rocket at 8.59pm local time.

The spacecraft’s three-member crew will relieve the Shenzhou-17 team, which has been manning China’s Tiangong space station since last October.

The China Manned Space Agency, or CMSA, held a send-off ceremony — complete with flag-waving children and patriotic tunes — for the Shenzhou-18 crew earlier on Thursday, as the three astronauts prepared to enter the spacecraft.

The trio is made of Commander Ye Guangfu, 43, a veteran astronaut who took part in the Shenzhou-13 mission in 2021, and fighter pilots Li Cong, 34, and Li Guangsu, 36, who are spaceflight rookies.

They are expected to reach the space station about six-and-a-half hours after lift-off.

China built its own space station after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely because of US concerns over the Chinese military’s involvement in the programme.

This year, the station is slated for two cargo spacecraft missions and two manned spaceflight missions.


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