BEIJING - China has announced that it has concluded a “full system drill”, the Chinese equivalent of a flight readiness review, and has cleared its next manned spacecraft, Shenzhou 9, for launch.
"The four-and-a-half-hour drill fully tested the conditions of all systems," said an unidentified official quoted by State run media. "Organization and command are unhindered, technology conditions and equipment are working normally and all the conditions can meet the requirements for the real launch."
Officially China will only say that the spacecraft will be launched sometime around the middle of the month however, based on when the booster was rolled to the pad and the normal amount of time required to ready the rocket for flight, it is widely believed that the spacecraft will be launched Saturday the 16th.
Shenzhou 9 will be the nation’s fourth manned spaceflight. The spacecrafts primary mission will be to deliver a crew of three to China’s orbiting space lab Tiangong -1.
See “Just What is Tiangong-1” http://interspacenews.com/FeatureArticle/tabid/130/Default.aspx?id=7290
The flight follows the un-manned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft which paid an automated visit to the space lab last year proving that the spacecraft’s docking system works. Once at the lab the crew is expected to spend about a week or so living and working aboard the lab before returning to Earth.
China considers this flight to be pivotal for its program. Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program put it this way:
"The Shenzhou-9 will perform our country's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module It means China's spacecraft will become a genuine manned shuttle tool between space and Earth. It can send human beings to space stations or space labs. This will be a significant step in China's manned space flight history,"
|Shenzhou 09 will fly an identical profile to that flown by Shenzhou 8 last year. Credit: Xinhua
China eventually plans to evolve the 8.5 ton Tiangong-1 space lab into an 80 ton space station by the year 2020. There are plans to launch at least two more Tiangong class space labs. Each new lab will expand on the capabilities of the last eventually evolving into two spacecraft - a giant cargo transporter and a series of radial modules that will surround the core of China’s space station much like Russia’s Mir space station.
Aside from performing China’s first manned docking and first extended stay in space, Shenzhou 9 will be flying one additional first – the first Chinese female astronaut. China has announced that either Liu Yang or Wang Yaping will join two mail astronauts for the historic trip to Tiangong 1. Both are members of China’s first batch of female astronauts selected last year. The presence of an entire female astronaut core indicates that Chinese females will be a common site on Chinese spacecraft in the years to come.
Weather is looking a little dicy for a Saturday launch. Thunderstorms, accompanied by heavy winds and rain are common this time of year. Temperatures can climb into the 90s.
“Although extreme weather does not happen frequently, it can lead to disastrous results if it does happen” said Li Dongxing, head of meteorology at China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center where the launch will take place.
Over 30 weather forecasters will be working to ensure the launch goes well.