On Tuesday, China sent three more astronauts into orbit to board its Tiangong space station, where the astronauts will finish integrating the third and final module of the space station, which docked with Tiangong at the end of October.
The space station’s completion comes as China seeks to overtake the U.S. as the dominant global power and as some U.S. officials believe China has already surpassed the U.S. in some aspects of space technology.
The Wall street Journal reported the additional three Chinese astronauts, known as taikonauts, launched off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia on Tuesday as part of Shenzhou-15 space mission. The three new Chinese taikonauts, from China National Space Administration (CNSA) space agency, joined three other taikonauts who were already onboard the Tiangong Space Station as part of the Shenzhou-14 mission.
Video shared by Chinese media showed the two Chinese space crews meeting up on board the Tiangong Space Station on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the China Manned Space Agency Ji Qiming, said on Monday that the Shenzhou-15 crew will stay in orbit for six months, finishing the space station’s final construction phase and then starting the first stage of space-based research on the station.
China has raised some tension with the international community over its handling of Tiangong’s construction. The various rocket boosters that carried Tiangong’s modules up into orbit have crashed back down to Earth in a manner that risked landing on populated areas.
Last year, Chinese officials criticized the U.S. and private space entrepreneur Elon Musk for a SpaceX rocket they alleged had a close encounter with China’s Tiangong station.
While the U.S. and China are competing in civilian space advancements, U.S. officials have also warned that China is developing a number of space-capable weapons.
Last year, U.S. Space Force Gen. David Thompson, who is the Vice Chief of Space Operations, said the U.S. and its allies are “still the best in the world” in terms of overall space technology, but that China has advanced at a greater pace than the U.S. and, in terms of hypersonic weapons, the U.S. has actually fallen behind.