Beijing wants to play in a league with the USA in space. The construction of the first own space station “Tiangong” is therefore being pushed ahead with speed.

China has successfully launched another team of astronauts to complete its under-construction space station. The trio started their mission on Sunday aboard the Shenzhou 14 spacecraft from the Jiuquan Cosmodrome in the north-west of the People’s Republic.

A “Long March 2F” rocket took them into space, as shown in a live broadcast by Chinese state television. The launch was a “complete success,” China’s space agency said after the ship reached orbit. The astronauts were scheduled to arrive at the station about six hours after launch. The “Shenzhou 14” should then dock with the core module “Tianhe” in an automated maneuver.

The astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe are already the third crew, which will now spend several months in space and carry out work on the station. In early May, a cargo flight brought additional equipment and supplies into space in preparation for the mission.

During the astronauts’ stay, two more modules are to be sent into space and attached in July and October. Another manned flight is planned, possibly in December. Then six astronauts should temporarily stay in the space station. The T-shaped station, which will ultimately weigh 66 tons, is then to be completed and start regular operation.

The space station called “Tiangong” (Heaven’s Palace) underpins China’s ambitions to become a space power and to catch up with the great spacefaring nations of the USA and Russia. The People’s Republic has invested billions in its space program and has already had some successes. China was the first country to land a spacecraft and exploration rover on the dark side of the moon. Last year, the “Zhurong” rover landed on Mars to explore the surface of the planet.

China has been barred from the International Space Station, particularly under pressure from the US, which has reservations about the opacity of China’s space program and its close ties to the military.

With their high ambitions in space, the state leadership in Beijing is concerned with national prestige, but also with the global technological pioneering role that they would like to challenge the USA. Further missions to the moon and Mars are planned in the medium term.