The three men, Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, will become the first Chinese astronauts to land on the initial stages of the space station, called Tiangong or Heavenly Palace, which is still under construction in a low Earth orbit.
China’s Manned Space Engineering Office made the announcement at a news conference on Wednesday, saying the launch would take place at 9:22 a.m. Beijing time (9:22 p.m. ET) Thursday from Jiuquan Space Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.
The three-man crew will be led by Nie Haisheng, the oldest member of the team. The launch will mark Nie’s third trip into space, having been aboard China’s first mission with more than one astronaut in 2005, and its 2013 mission to test its docking technology.
According to an official at China’s Manned Space Engineering Office, the astronauts will conduct two spacewalks to install equipment on the space station during their mission.
There is no official announcement yet on when the other sections of the space station will launch, but the module is expected to operate for at least 10 years.
China has previously operated two space labs in orbit, the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, both of which were trials for the larger space station the country is now constructing.
Asia Despatch’s Katie Hunt contributed to this article.