China will launch three more astronauts to its new space station in June after the latest crew returned this weekend after a six-month stay in space, an official said Sunday.
The crew of Shenzhou 14 will spend six months on the Tiangong to add two modules to the station, according to Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.
China launched its first astronaut into space in 2003, landed robot rovers on the moon in 2013 and landed on Mars last year. Officials have discussed a possible crewed mission to the moon.
The core module of the Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, was launched in April 2021. The plans call for completion of the construction this year.
The Wentian module will be launched in July and the Mengtian module will be launched in October, Hao said.
On Saturday, the crew of Shenzhou 13 landed in the Gobi Desert in the northern region of Inner Mongolia.
During the mission, astronaut Wang Yaping carried out the first spacewalk by a Chinese woman. Wang, crewmate Zhai Zhigang and crewmate Ye Guangfu also beamed back physics lessons for high school students.
After the United States and the Soviet Union, China was the third nation to launch an astronaut into space. Tiangong is China's third space station after its predecessors launched in 2011 and 2016.
In 2020, the government announced that China's first reusable spacecraft had landed in a test flight, but no photos or details have been released.
China is not allowed to participate in the International Space Station due to US unease that its space programme is run by the ruling Communist Party's military wing, the People's Liberation Army.