The two astronauts of the Shenzhou 11 mission have entered the Tiangong 2 space laboratory to begin a 30-day mission to demonstrate medium- to long-term orbital living, following a successful rendezvous docking that took place at 03:24 CST on Wednesday 19 October (19:24 UTC on 18 October).
About 10 minutes after lift-off, the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle’s second-stage and was placed into a 197 km x 361 km initial parking orbit. Control of the spacecraft was officially handed over from the Jiuquan Launch Mission Control Centre to the Beijing Aerospace Control Centre (BACC).
About 5 hours 26 minutes into the flight, during its 4th orbit, Shenzhou 11 performed its first orbital elevation manoeuvre to enter a 366 km x 335 km orbit. This was followed by a second orbital elevation at the apogee of the 23rd orbit on 18 October, moving the spacecraft into a 376 km x 366 km orbit.
For the Shenzhou 11 mission, a total of five orbital elevation manoeuvres have been planned during the first 48 hours of orbital flight, in order to elevate the spacecraft to a 393 km orbit, on which Tiangong 2 was operating. In the previous Shenzhou missions, the rendezvous docking with the target vehicle (space laboratory) was performed on a 343 km orbit. The new flight sequence is a closer imitation of the rendezvous docking operation that will be used by the future manned space station.
Shenzhou 11 reached a position about 52 km away from Tiangong 2 in the early morning on 19 October, and the automated rendezvous and docking sequence was initiated. Under the guidance of the microwave and laser docking radars, the Shenzhou vehicle slowly closed in to Tiangong 2, which was flying in a ‘backside first’ position, with its front docking port pointing backwards in order for Shenzhou to perform a V-bar approach.
After pausing briefly at the 5 km, 400 m, 120 m and 30 m hold points, Shenzhou 11 was on final approach to Tiangong 2, with its crew on standby to take over using manual docking. The two vehicles made the first contact at 03:24 CST (17:24 UTC on 18 October). The docking mechanism of the two vehicles then pulled the two vehicles closer together to establish a hard-mate. By 03:34 CST, the two vehicles were fully joined. At 03:41 CST, the Mission Control Centre confirmed that the docking had succeeded.
At 03:46 CST, the Mission Control Centre gave the Shenzhou 11 crew the go-ahead to open the hatch to the spacecraft’s orbital module. It took about 90 minute for the two vehicles to achieve a balance on their internal pressure, in order for the crew to open the hatches on both sides of the docking port. At about 06:25 CST (22:25 UTC on 18 October), the hatch to Tiangong 2 was opened. Commander Jing Haipeng first entered the space laboratory module, while Chen Dong captured the whole process using a handheld camera. About 8 minutes later, Chen Dong also entered Tiangong 2.
After a brief communication with the ground via the video link, the two astronauts began preparation for their life on orbit in the temporary home over the next 30 days.