China's Shenzhou 14 is on standby to launch in case of space station emergency

China has just launched its longest-crewed mission yet, but should the Shenzhou 13 astronauts need to be rescued, the next spacecraft in this series is ready to launch.
Shenzhou 13 took off on October 15, with Commander Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu reaching the Tianhe module orbiting at Tiangong's Tiangong space station about 6.5 hours later. Shenzhou 14 (and its Long March 2F rocket vehicle) are now on standby at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gobi Desert.

"Shenzhou 14 was assembled and tested at the base. The spacecraft is now ready for launch and rescue operations," Jia Shijin (chief designer of the crewed craft system of China Academy of Space Technology) told CCTV.

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Zhai Wang, Ye, and another launch of Tianhe will see them stay onboard Tianhe for six months. They will be performing two to three extravehicular activities (or spacewalks) and a variety of technological and scientific experiments during this period. Shenzhou 14 is available to help in the event of a spacecraft malfunction, impact by debris, or other issues that could endanger the crew.

China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, (CALT), which developed the Long March 2F launcher for China, stated to Chinese newspaper Global Times, that in an emergency, all participants required to launch should be available within 48 hours. They must also be able launch within nine days.

This emergency planning recalls the NASA " Launch On Need" missions, which were designed to rescue crews from spacecraft damage. These standby mission preparations have become a standard part of China's space station operations. Shenzhou 13 was also on standby during the Shenzhou 12 mission (which ran from June through September).

Shortly before Shenzhou 13 was launched on October 15, 2021, the Long March 2F carried Shenzhou 13. (Image credit to CMSE on weibo/Yang Juni)

Tianhe is the core space station module. It provides living quarters for crew members and propulsion for orbital outpost. As well as being a docking hub, multiple spacecraft can dock with it. Tianhe currently has the Tianzhou3 cargo spacecraft at its fore and Tianzhou2 at the forward port. Shenzhou 13 was responsible for China's first radial rendezvous, docking and approach to Tianhe.

Shenzhou 14 will launch after March 2022. Shenzhou 13 will return to Earth in March 2022. Two new modules for Tianhe's space station will be delivered to Shenzhou 14 by the Shenzhou 14 mission.