China launches Shenzhou-18 mission to Tiangong Space Station as part of ambitious lunar goals

Tiangong Space Station

24th April 2024 – (Beijing) China is set to dispatch the Shenzhou-18 mission, manned by three astronauts, to the Tiangong space station on Thursday evening. The launch, scheduled for 8.59pm local time (1259 GMT), will take place at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, as confirmed by Beijing’s Manned Space Agency on Wednesday.

This mission marks another crucial chapter in China’s expansive space programme, which not only aims to send astronauts to the Moon by 2030 but has also seen the successful deployment of robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon. The Tiangong space station, which translates to “heavenly palace,” is a central element of this programme. Completed in 2022, it houses astronauts on rotating missions and is expected to maintain its orbit between 400km and 450km above Earth for at least a decade.

The Shenzhou-18 will be commanded by Ye Guangfu, a seasoned fighter pilot and astronaut who previously served on the Shenzhou-13 mission in 2021. Joining him are Li Cong and Li Guangsu, both of whom are making their inaugural trip into space.

Once aboard Tiangong, the team will undertake a six-month tenure filled with scientific experiments focused on gravity, physics, and life sciences. A notable aspect of their mission includes a project aimed at the high-resolution global detection of greenhouse gases, as detailed by Lin Xiqiang, deputy director general of the China Manned Space Agency. This initiative highlights China’s increasing involvement in global environmental monitoring from space.

“All pre-launch preparations are proceeding on schedule,” Lin assured during a press briefing, underscoring the meticulous planning behind China’s space endeavours.

The trio is set to replace the astronauts from the Shenzhou-17 mission, who have been on the space station since October. Their collaborative efforts with other teams are part of a broader strategy to ensure the continuous operation and success of subsequent missions to the space station, ultimately paving the way for China’s manned missions to the Moon.