China to launch three-person mission to build space station

The Shenzhou-14 will be launched on Sunday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the northwestern province of Gansu, sending three astronauts to its space station.

Their spaceship is due to blast off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert at 10:44 a.m. Sunday (2:44 a.m. GMT), the agency said.

The crewed space flight program's workhorse, the Long March 2F rocket, will provide propulsion.

Astronauts Chen Dong, Liu Yang, and Cai Xuzhe will travel on the Shenzhou-14 spaceflight which will dock with the Tiangong space station, currently under construction.

The mission will build the space station into a national space laboratory, said Lin Xiqiang, the deputy director of the CMSA.

The arrival of the new modules will "provide more stability, more powerful functions, more complete equipment,” said Chen, 43, who was a member of the Shenzhou 11 mission in 2016.

China’s space program launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, making it only the third country to do so on its own after the former Soviet Union and the U.S.

This is the 2nd set of six astronauts China will be sent to build its space station.

China's space program is run by the ruling Communist Party's military wing, the People's Liberation Army, prompting the U.S. to exclude it from the International Space Station (ISS).