China would welcome the presence of foreign astronauts in joint missions at its space station after it becomes fully operational later this year, the foreign ministry said on Monday. “At present, we are organising and implementing the first batch of international cooperation projects jointly undertaken [between China] and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) at the Chinese space station,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said. “[We are] hopeful that the experiments and research can be launched before the end of this year at the earliest.” Wang’s comments came after the return of the Shenzhou 13 crew on Saturday following a record six months at the Tiangong space station . During their time aloft, the crew of three conducted experiments and spacewalks, and worked on building the station. According to Wang, the first batch of nine projects for the completed station would involve 23 organisations from 17 countries. “We are willing to work with any country and region that is dedicated to the peaceful use of space to carry out more international cooperation and exchanges,” Wang said. “The Chinese space station welcomes foreign astronauts to visit, and work with the Chinese astronauts to jointly explore the mysteries of the universe, and make bigger contributions to the building of a community with a shared future for humanity.” The nine projects selected cover areas such as space life sciences, biotechnology, microgravity fluid physics, microgravity combustion and astronomy. Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, said on Sunday that China would add two laboratory modules to complete the Tiangong space station later this year. He also said that the Tianzhou 4 cargo mission would be launched next month, followed in June by the Shenzhou 14 spacecraft, which would take up a new crew of three astronauts to the station for six months. A source who has knowledge about the space programme said the nine projects would be carried out by the Shenzhou 15 crew, who would make their journey to the space station by the end of the year. The source said the Shenzhou 14 crew would complete the addition of the Wentian and Mengtian space lab modules. “The experiments and research agreed on by the China Manned Space Agency and UNOOSA experts will be carried out at the Wentian and Mengtian space lab modules so they will start as soon as the installation of the modules is completed,” the source said. Construction of the Tiangong space station began last year. It is smaller than the International Space Station, which has been in orbit since 1998 and is expected to be retired in 2031.