China's Shenzhou 15 astronauts set to return to Earth tonight

Three astronauts are all set to return to Earth after half a year aboard China’s space station.

Shenzhou 15 mission commander Fei Junlong and crewmates Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu have been aboard the Tiangong space station since November last year. 

The trio welcomed the incoming Shenzhou 16 crew to Tiangong on Monday (May 29), and on Friday (June 2) all six astronauts participated in a ceremony to hand over control of the space station to the newcomers.

Related: China’s Shenzhou 15 astronauts quietly conduct 3rd spacewalk (video)

“We have completed the in-orbit mission of Shenzhou 15. Now I hand over the keys to the space station, as arranged,” Fei said, Chinese broadcaster CCTV reported.

“On behalf of the Shenzhou 16 mission crew and after a thorough inspection and review, I have confirmed that there is no problem and will sign,” said Shenzhou 16 commander Jing Haipeng.

With their work complete, the Shenzhou 15 astronauts will now prepare for the journey home. Chinese state media report that the crew will return home on Sunday (June 4). Airspace closure notices indicate more accurately that the Shenzhou 15 will land around 6:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday (June 3; 2230 GMT, or 6:30 a.m. Beijing time on June 4).

Related stories:

— China’s Shenzhou 15 astronauts complete record-breaking 4th spacewalk (video)

— Facts about China’s Tiangong space station

— China launches 3 astronauts to Tiangong space station on Shenzhou 16 spacecraft (video)

The return capsule will touch down within the Dongfeng landing site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, close to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, from which the crew launched six months ago.

Teams on the ground completed rescue and recovery drills at Dongfeng on Thursday (June 1) in preparation for the return to Earth, Chinese media reported.

The Shenzhou 15 crew embarked on four spacewalks during their time aboard Tiangong, marking a national record. They also conducted a range of science experiments and outreach activities. 


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