China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts set to return to Earth on Sunday

China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts entered the Tiangong space station on June 5, 2022. From left to right: Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang.
China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts entered the Tiangong space station on June 5, 2022. From left to right: Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang. (Image credit: CNSA/CCTV+)

Three astronauts who spent six months in space constructing China's new space station are ready to return home. 

Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe are scheduled to leave the Tiangong space station and reenter Earth's atmosphere in their Shenzhou 14 spacecraft on Sunday (Dec. 4), according (opens in new tab) to airspace closure notices. 

The crew are set to land in their reentry capsule in the Gobi Desert near the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at around 7:10 a.m. EST (1210 GMT; 8:10 p.m. Beijing time). A backup window for landing is open 90 minutes, or one orbit of Earth, later.

Related: China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts snap stunning photos of Earth, the moon and more

Ground crews completed rescue and recovery drills on Thursday (Dec. 1) in preparation for the landing, Chinese state media reported (opens in new tab)

The Shenzhou 14 trio launched for the Tianhe space station core module from Jiuquan on June 5 (GMT) and oversaw the arrival of two new modules in orbit, helping to complete the T-shaped Tiangong.

They greeted the incoming Shenzhou 15 crew on Nov. 29, marking the first time China ever had six astronauts in space at the same time. After celebrating the orbital get together, the two crews began preparing for the first Tiangong crew handover and the Shenzhou 14 crew's voyage home.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).