Shenzhou-9 Manned - Shenzhou
June 16, 2012 17:52:40
China Launches Historic Space Mission
By Robert Gass

BEIJING – China  successfully launch a three man crew into orbit today ushering in the beginning of what promises to be a truly historic mission for the Chinese. The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft was launched aboard an upgraded Long March 2F booster at 6:37 pm local time out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Northwestern Gobi desert.

Launch of Shenzhou 9 Photo Credit: Xinhua

Shenzhou 9 carries a crew of three - Jing Haipeng , Liu Wang and Liu Yang. Liu Yang is the first Chinese woman to fly in space. For that reason alone this mission is significant but there is more. Last year China launched Tiangong-1. Tianghong-1 is a semi-autonomous space laboratory intended to test equipment for use on a future, much larger space station.The 8.5 ton spacelab is 35 feet long, 11 feet in diameter and consists of two major modules –a pressurized experiment module and a non-pressurized equipment module.

Shenzhou 9 is seen here being readied for flight. Photo Credit: Xinhua

(See “Just What Is Tiangong-1

 http://interspacenews.com/FeatureArticle/tabid/130/Default.aspx?id=7290  )

 Late last year China successfully docked the un-manned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft with the orbiting lab marking the first time china had docked two spacecraft in orbit. Now they want to try it with people.  

To prepare for the docking Tiangong-1 was lowered from its operational orbit to a docking orbit 343 Km above the Earth. Over the course of the next two days Shenzhou-9 will maneuver  ever closer to the orbiting lab following a course very similar to that flown by the United States and Russia when they send crews to the ISS. Once near-by, the crew is expected to take control of the spacecraft and dock it manually

To accomplish the task the crew will make use of a series of new optical sensors specially developed for this flight.  Chinese scientists have stated that “the human brain can do more in an emergency than any computer can” and intend to dock all manned spacecraft manually in the future.

This will mark the first time that China has docked a manned spacecraft to another spacecraft.

China plans to make use of a variety of equipment to maintain contact with the crew . These include the Tianlian-1 satellite. Tianlian-1 is the first of four spacecraft China is developing to create a system similar to NASA’s TDRS system. Eventually  these spacecraft will create an orbital communications system that will allow full time communication with crews in orbit. Additionally China intends to make use of a series of ground stations both inside and outside of the country as well as three ships. The Beijing Aerospace Control Center, the Dongfeng space launch command and control center and the Xi'an Satellite Monitor and Control Center will also play a roll.

Tiangong - 1 being readied for flight Credit: Xinhua

Once the docking is complete the crew will enter the lab 2 at a time to tend to existing experiments and install new ones.  China plans to conduct more medical studies on this mission than on any previous Chinese manned spaceflight. This is to help the country learn about the effects  extended duration spaceflight has on the crew. They intend to study the crews harts, lungs and biochemistry.The station includes an ergometer, chest developer, and equipment to provide neuromuscular stimulation to fight the effects of weightlessness.  To further help the crew adapt the floor has been painted with Earth tones and the ceiling painted with sky tones to help the crew maintain a sense of up and down.

The labs primary instrument is a hyperspectral camera designed to monitor China’s crops. The images captured by the massive external camera will help the Chinese monitor such things as heavy metal pollution, pesticide residue, and plant disease.  

One person will remain aboard the Shenzhou at all times during the flight in case something goes wrong. The crew has rehearsed over 700  contingency plans for this mission. Tiangong-1 is equipped with a sleeping station and if all goes will the crew will take turns sleeping aboard the lab with one person sleeping on the lab and two aboard the Shenzhou.After about a week of docked activities the crew will separate the two spacecraft and return to Earth completing a 13 day mission in space.

Shenzhou-9's flight profile will be identical to that flown by Shenzhou-8 last year. Credit: Xinhua

It is important to note that although a 13 day mission is very short compared to ISS missions, which routinely last 6 months or even longer,  this mission will mark a significant upgrading of China’s capabilities in space. For the first time China will have successfully delivered a crew to an orbiting space lab. This, coupled with the un-manned mission last year indicates that Shenzhou has matured into viable space transportation system capable of delivering cargo and crew to an orbiting outpost.  This is a significant step on the road towards developing an 85 ton manned space station and eventually sending a man to the Moon – both stated long term goals of the Chinese space program.

 

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