China is implementing its first batch of international cooperation programs on board the Tiangong space station, and will hopefully upload those experiments by the end of the year. Foreign astronauts are welcome to Tiangong to make greater contributions to the shared future of mankind, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Monday.
The Shenzhou-13 crew safely returned to Earth on Saturday after staying 183 days in orbit, doubling the previous record set by Shenzhou-12 to become the country's longest single-flight space mission.
Wang said that the mission was a breakthrough journey with many highlights and firsts. These achievements suggest that China's space station has completed its key technology verification stage, laying a solid foundation for the next phase of in-orbit construction.
During their six-month stay, the Shenzhou-13 crew for the first time carried out a radial rendezvous and docking with the space station's Tianhe core cabin that verified the station's capability to receive visiting spaceships in different positions.
Also for the first time, the crew performed an emergency rescue standby task and established a rescue mode in case an in-orbit spaceship malfunctions and cannot return, the Global Times learned from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
On their return trip, they also conducted the first fast return program. Compared to the return trip of Shenzhou-12 which took 18 laps and approximately 28 hours, the Shenzhou-13 reduced it to five laps that only took eight hours. The program further enhanced return efficiency, shortened the ground monitoring time, and made it more comfortable for the returning astronauts.
The China Manned Space Agency announced on Sunday that six more flights will be arranged this year to complete the station's construction, including two experimental modules, two manned missions and two supply runs. Tiangong will then enter the operational stage which will run for over 10 years, becoming a space "home" for all mankind.
When asked whether there will be foreign astronauts joining China's space station, Wang said at Monday's press briefing that exploring the unknown universe and developing space technology is a common cause of mankind, which cannot be achieved without the cooperation of countries around the world.
China has always adhered to the principles of peaceful and mutual-beneficial use and common development of space, signed cooperation agreements with France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Pakistan, as well as space agencies and organizations such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the European Space Agency, Wang said.
China's space station is the first project of its kind that is open to all UN member states, Wang further noted, and there are already nine projects involving some 17 countries and 23 entities selected among the first batch of scientific experiments to be carried out on the station.
Simonetta Di Pippo, director of the UNOOSA, said China's opening-up of the space station to the world is a good example of its will to enhance international cooperation in space missions.
As the International Space Station will possibly retire after 2024, China's Tiangong is likely to become the only operational space station in the world. In an exclusive interview with the Global Times on Saturday, Bai Linhou, deputy chief designer of China's space station, said that China's space station is an inclusive one and has been designed in a way that foreign astronauts can adapt to.
Once Tiangong enters the operational phase, Bai said, foreign astronauts will have two ways to enter China's space station - by a Chinese spacecraft, or by their own spacecraft with a docking interface suitable to Tiangong.