China Releases Images Of Tiangong Space Station From Shenzhou 16

China has released photos by the crew of Shenzhou 16, who captured unprecedented images as they departed the station, before returning to Earth.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Published: 29th Nov 2023 21:18 GMT
Written by: Zac Aubert

China has released photos by the crew of Shenzhou 16, who captured unprecedented images as they departed the station, before returning to Earth.

The high-definition images provide a mesmerizing glimpse of the Tiangong Space Station, imaging the entire structure since its arrival in orbit.

The Shenzhou 16 crew consisted of commander Jing Haipeng, Zhu Yangzhu, and Gui Haichao, who safely returned from low-Earth orbit on October 30th. The Tiangong station command was handed over to Shenzhou 17 prior to Shenzhou 16's departure.

During their homeward journey, the Shenzhou 16 crew directed their cameras toward the Tiangong Space Station, revealing breathtaking views of the orbital laboratory suspended above Earth at altitudes ranging from 217 to 280 miles (340 to 450 kilometers).

Tiangong, meaning "Heavenly Palace," saw its inaugural module, Tianhe, reach low-Earth orbit in 2021.

The Shenzhou 12 crew became its first occupants on June 16, 2021, marking a 90-day stay—three times longer than any prior taikonaut mission. Subsequent launches of Wentian and Mengtian in 2022 and 2023, respectively, completed the 180-foot (55-meter) long, 77-ton space station, constituting approximately 20% of the International Space Station's size.

Since achieving full capacity, Tiangong has hosted a rotating crew of three Taikonauts, engaging in a myriad of crucial scientific experiments. The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) aims to sustain this research momentum for at least a decade.

The Shenzhou 16 mission, the fifth crew to inhabit the space station, continued the station's scientific legacy. Their activities included a spacewalk, cultivation of vegetables, and a live lecture from space that demonstrated the unique challenges of lighting a match in microgravity.

Despite the breathtaking imagery captured by Shenzhou 16, CMSA has ambitious plans for Tiangong's future. Announced on October 4 at the 47th International Astronautical Congress in Baku, the space agency unveiled intentions to expand the station with an additional three modules, elevating the total unit count to six.

CMSA plans to accompany Tiangong with a Hubble-class space telescope named "Xuntian." This telescope will orbit Earth alongside the space station, equipped to rendezvous for repairs, refueling, and upgrades—an initiative poised to further elevate China's presence in orbital research and exploration.

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