China has successfully launched the Shenzhou 12 astronaut It is China's seventh crewed mission to space and the first during the construction of China's space station. It is also the first in nearly five years after the country's last manned mission.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency says the spacecraft, atop a Long March-2F carrier rocket, was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gobi Desert at 9:22 a.m. (Beijing Time), according to the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

About 573 seconds after the launch, Shenzhou-12 separated from the rocket and entered its designated orbit. The Shenzhou-12 crew is in good shape and the launch is a complete success, the CMSA declared. says the identity of the three Shenzhou 12 crewmembers was announced on Tuesday.  They are all men: astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo. Nie has flown twice before, on the Shenzhou 6 mission in 2005 and Shenzhou 10 in 2013.  Liu flew on Shenzhou 7 in 2008, and Tang is a spaceflight rookie.

The most recent Chinese crewed spaceflight, Shenzhou 11, was launched in October 2016. That mission carried three astronauts to the Tiangong 2 space lab, a prototype precursor of the new station, for a one-month stay.

The Shenzhou 12 crew, by contrast, will spend three months aboard Tianhe, which launched to low Earth orbit on April 28.  Though the module has been aloft for less than two months, it has already received a robotic visitor — the Tianzhou 2 cargo craft, which delivered 6.6 tons of supplies to the core module late last month.

The Shenzhou-12 spaceship will conduct a fast autonomous rendezvous and docking with the in-orbit space station core module Tianhe, forming a complex with Tianhe and the cargo craft Tianzhou-2. The astronauts will be stationed in the core module.  The Shenzhou-12 crew is expected to complete four major tasks in orbit. 

Xinhua notes that after the five launch missions this year, China plans to have six more missions, including the launch of the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules, two cargo spacecraft and two crewed spaceships, in 2022 to complete the construction of the space station.