6 Chinese astronauts smiled for the camera when after arriving in their Shenzhou 15 spacecraft, China’s newly-finished space station “Tiangong” played host to its maximum number of crewmembers in what the nation called a “space reunion”.
Astronauts Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming, and Zhang Lu were greeted aboard Tiangong after their craft docked at 5:42 PM, Beijing time on November 30th. Shenzhou 14 crew members Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe have spent the last 6 months aboard the station overseeing its completion.
The ISS is no longer alone in space, as this November fulfilled a precisely thirty-year ambition to construct a permanent upper-orbit habitation for the PRC.
With 7 astronauts aboard the ISS, there are currently 13 crew members aboard two permanently inhabited space stations, something which has obviously never happened before. Tiangong consists of three modules formed in a T-shape. There are also several crew shuttles docked with it, one of which, the Shenzhou 14, is set to take astronauts Fei, Feng, and Zhang back to Earth in the next few days.
Principally Tiangong is a research vessel, with “24 experiment cabinets” as Space News describes them, and the connectivity for a Hubble-class survey telescope called the Xuntian, equipped with a 2-meter aperture and a 2.5 gigapixel sensor.
Without funding, and alongside sky-high tensions with Russia, it’s likely that by 2025 the ISS will be allowed to crash into the sea, and Tiangong will be the only manned habitation in orbit.