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China's next crewed spacecraft is ready for potential space station rescue mission

China rolls the Shenzhou 14-Long March 2F stack to the pad on May 20, 2022, ahead of a June 4 launch to China's space station. Shenzhou 15 and its Long March 2F are now ready to launch on a potential rescue mission, if Shenzhou 14 should encounter an emergency in orbit.
China rolls the Shenzhou 14-Long March 2F stack to the launch pad on May 20, 2022, ahead of a June 4 launch to China's space station. Shenzhou 15 and its Long March 2F are now ready to launch on a potential rescue mission, if Shenzhou 14 should encounter an emergency in orbit. (Image credit: CNSA/OurSpace)

China's Shenzhou 14 astronauts are only just settling in for their six-month mission aboard the country's space station, but Shenzhou 15 is already on standby in case of an emergency in orbit. 

Shenzhou 14 lifted off on June 4, delivering astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe to the Tianhe space station core module seven hours later.

Life in orbit is going well for the trio so far, but back on the ground the Shenzhou 15 spacecraft and a Long March 2F rocket have been assembled and tested in case an emergency arises aboard China's Tiangong space station.

Related: The latest news about China's space program

"When a spaceship is performing tasks in space, there must be another manned spaceship on standby on the ground for emergency rescue," Jia Shijin, chief designer of the crewed spacecraft system under the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), explained to CCTV (opens in new tab).

"If the spaceship in space is out of order and can't return, then we'll quickly launch this rescue spaceship, which can enter orbit in a very short time and bring the astronauts back to Earth," Jia added.

It was earlier reported that Shenzhou 14, while on standby during the recent Shenzhou 13 mission, could have been readied for launch within nine days.

If all continues to go well with Shenzhou 14, however, Shenzhou 15 will launch sometime around December to carry out its primary, intended mission — sending three new astronauts to the completed three-module Tiangong. There they will meet up with the Shenzhou 14 astronauts for Tiangong's first-ever crew handover.

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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).