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What To Expect From Shenzhou-10

Beijing – The Shenzhou-10 crew, who successfully launched out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center yesterday aboard a modified Long March 2B booster, spent their first full day in space today offering the country Dragon Festival (Chinese New Year) greetings from within the  spacecrafts descent module. Astronauts Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping appeared on camera around 1pm local time today to thank those who were stuck working because they were in orbit and to send greetings to the rest of the country.

 

"We wish all Chinese around the world a happy Dragon Boat Festival," the astronauts said while holding a banner reading "Happy Dragon Boat Festival."  Within the next day or two the crew should reach their destination – the Tiangong-1 space laboratory. Chinese technicians describe Tiangong-1 as a “mini Space Station”, a uniquely Chinese construction where Chinese astronauts can begin honing their skills before graduating to a full sized space station before the year 2020.

 

Tiangong-1 Photo Credit: Xinhua

 

Tiangong 1 is 35 feet long and is 11 feet in diameter at its widest part. It weighs just 8.5 tons (compare that to the first Russian space station which weighed 25 tons). It is made up of two major modules. At the front is a docking port. Tiangong 1 has been fitted with a modified APAS-89 docking unit. The same unit currently used by Russia and the United States to dock with the International Space Station. It is believed that the Chinese chose this system deliberately in order to make their spacecraft compatible with ISS.

 

From the docking port, a cone shaped adapter leads to the first module known as the “experiment” module. This is a two steeped pressurized module with the back half being slightly larger than the front. This is the area in which the crew will do most of their work. The experiment module is connected to the second module, known as the resource module, via a second cone like structure. The resource module is a cylinder which contains all of the crew’s life support systems as well as all of the mechanical systems and fuel. Power is generated using two foldable solar panels that attach to the module. There are also at least two maneuvering engines in the back. It is entirely possible that this section is a modified Shenzhou service module. This would be similar to how the Russians used modified Soyuz service modules on their early space stations.

 

Shenzhou – 10 is the first operational flight of a Shenzhou spacecraft. Up to this point, the Chinese have been using each manned mission to develop certain key technologies. First was to simply fly a man in space, then to fly a crew into space, next was to conduct a spacewalk, and after that was to dock with an orbiting lab (Tiangong-1). Now they are seeking to utilize these key technologies to begin living and working in space.

 

High on the priority list for Shenzhou-10 will be docking operations. In fact this is mission critical objective. Once Shenzhou-10 reaches Tiangong-1 the crew will attempt to dock with it.  This will be done autonomously from the ground. If Shenzhou-10 fails to dock the mission will be over. Upon docking the crew will enter Shenzhou-10’s orbital module. Unlike the Russian Soyuz and the American Space Shuttle, which normally stay passive during docked operations, Shenzhou-10 will play a very active roll. One of the Unique capabilities of the Shenzhou system is the fact that the orbital module can function independent of the rest of the spacecraft. It acts like a third module housing the kitchen, bathroom, and a single sleep station (two more are on the lab). It is interesting to note that on this particular mission the crew will be using a new and improved toilet as well as testing out new food.

 

Once the post docking checks are complete the crew will open the hatch and one of them, most likely the commander, will enter the lab. The first thing he will do is give the interior a thorough look over. Tiangong-1 has been in space now for over 600 days, during this time it has only been visited once. Early Russian space stations that were left un-occupied so long were often found to have mold or slime growing on the walls by the next crew. Chinese scientists believe that they have that problem under control but they want to make sure. Following his inspection the commander will invite the other two astronauts inside where they will hold a brief news conference before beginning work.

 

Over the course of the next few days the crew will work to resupply the station (something the Chinese have never done before) and begin work on science experiments. Earth observations and observations of China’s farm lands will be conducted using a special hyperspectral camera that has been installed inside the experiment module. The camera will enable scientists to monitor such things as heavy metal pollution, pesticide residue, and plant disease. In addition to the camera, the spacecraft comes equipped with facilities to study photonic crystals, a material that is expected to revolutionize information technologies here on Earth, and other experiments involving life sciences.

 

Taking a que from NASA, the crew plans to host a live broadcast with school children in China. Astronaut Wang Yaping plans to give Chinese primary and middle school students on Earth a lesson in the effects of the zero-gravity environment. This is intended to inspire them to pursue careers in science or mathematics.

 

After a period of time the crew will once again enter Shenzhou-10 and un-dock from the station. After performing a series of maneuvers meant to simulate relocating a spacecraft from one station port to another, the crew will re-dock with the station only this time they will do it manually.

 

The crew will spend the rest of the mission finishing up their experiments and packing away the results. During the time between the last Shenzhou visit and this one, the station has been working autonomously so there is a lot of data to collect. The crew will then return to Earth. The entire mission is expected to last 15 days.

 

This will probably be the last time a Chinese spacecraft visits Tiangong-1. The spacecraft is getting old and China is already working on the Tiangong-2 follow-up module. Tiangong-2 will be more capable and able to support crews for longer stays than Tiangong-1 could. This is expected to be followed by Tiangong-3.

 

 
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Shenzhou-9 Docks To Tiangong-1

BEIJING –  In what is being heralded as a quantum leap forward for its manned space program, China has succeeded in docking it 5,000 plus pound Shenzhou-9 spacecraft with the 8.5 ton Tiangong-1 orbiting space lab marking the first time it has accomplished such a feet. The docking was accomplished  autonomously at 2:07 pm local time. The crew then entered the lab three hours later.

Credit: Xinhua

Shenzhou-9 uses the same docking system that both the Unites States and Russia uses on their spacecraft. The spacecraft are first lined up and then guided towards each other using the Shenzhou orbital maneuvering system. Both spacecraft next extend their docking rings and continue their approach until the rings touch. Small latches loch the two rings together creating what is called a “soft docking”. Finally the rings are withdrawn pulling the two spacecraft together. Once in contact a series of larger latches are activated which lock the two vehicles together creating a “hard docking”.

This is very close to the procedure used by both American and Russian manned spacecraft when they dock with the International Space Station. The big difference here is that the Shenzhou-9 crew monitored, but did not actively participate in this docking. the docking. The docking was accomplished autonomously using a set of lasers and microwave reflectors mounted on the two spacecraft. The Russian’s can also dock their spacecraft autonomously but prefer to dock manually.  According to Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China's manned space program, the Chinese would also prefer to dock manually and intend to do that towards the end of the mission.

Shenzhou-9 docked to Tiangong-1 Credit: Xinhua

"The real test will be the manual docking attempt six days later he said. "A manual docking, if successful, will demonstrate the country's grasp of essential space rendezvous and docking know-how," he said. "It will mean China is fully capable of transferring human and cargo to an orbiter in space."

Once the docking had been accomplished the crew set about preparing to enter Tiangong-1. Before they could open the hatches the pressure between the two vehicles had to be equalized using a “balance valve” located in the Shenzhou-9 orbital module. The process took about three hours. Commander Jing Haipeng then opened Shenzhou’s hatch and entered the short tunnel between the two spacecraft. After equalizing the pressure between the lab and the docking tunnel he opened Tiangong-1’s hatch and entered the lab. After inspecting the interior he was joined by his crew mates Liu Wang and Liu Yang.

Commander Jing Haipeng enters Tiangong-1 Photo Credit: Xinhua

After posing for some photos Liu Yang returned to the Shenzhou while her crewmates set about activating the lab. It is standard procedure on this mission forone astronaut to remain in Shenzhou-9 at all times in case an emergency forces the crew to abandon the lab. Liu Yang will get her chance to work in the lab tomorrow.

The two spacecraft are expected to spend 6 days docked.

The Shenzhou-9 crew pose for photos inside the Tiangong-1 lab. Photo Credit: Xinhua

 

 
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China Launches Historic Space Mission

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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China Readies Manned Spacecraft For Launch With First Chinese Female Astronaut

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.  

 

 
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China Ready To Attempt Manned Docking

BEIJING - China has announced that it will be launching a manned spacecraft to the Tiangong-1 space laboratory between June and August of this year.The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft will carry a crew of three and stay at the lab for several days or weeks.

The announcement flies in the face of earlier announcements carried in the foreign press and credited to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. These reports stated that the Shenzhou 9 mission would beun-manned prompting  wide spread speculation that something had gone wrong on China’s First space docking mission last year and the mission was being re-flown to test the fix.

When China first launched Tiangong-1 in September of last year the  Chinese press was reporting that if the Shenzhou-8 un-manned docking mission was a success a manned mission would quickly follow early this year. Very little information has been released since the spacecraft’s return. When no launch occurred early this year a lot of people simply jumped the gun and began speculating that there were problems.

So what will be Shenzhou-9’s mission? Not much is known about that but a fairly accurate all be it rudimentary framework can be cobbled together based on Chinese media reports and the Shenzhou 8 mission.

The primary goal of the flight will be to perform a manned docking with Tiangong-1. The ability to dock two spacecraft is critical to any large scale space effort and the Chinese have made it clear that this is their immediate goal.  Once docked the crew will enter the space lab and begin manned operations. This will include communication tests, stowing experiments that have been running autonomously since the Tiangong-1’s launch, and testing the lab’s ergonomics.

Although the crew will stay on board the lab for anywhere from several days to several weeks only one at a time will sleep in the lab.The other two will sleep inside the Shenzhou-9 orbital module which will also serve as a kitchen and bathroom.

Like the old Russian Salyut’s,  Tiangong -1 has one major instrument located inside the lab – a large hyperspectral camera. The crew will use this camera to assess crops throughout China and although China insists that this camera is only for science the un-manned US X-37B space plane has been seen shadowing the space lab indicating that the US military thinks otherwise.The crew will also conduct experiments with Photonic crystals and other technology experiments.

Once Shenzhou-9 has successfully returned to Earth China intends to send one more manned spacecraft to the lab – Shenzhou 10. Although no official launch date has been set the spacecraft is expected to launch late this year or early next year.  After that mission the spacelab is expected to be abandoned and replaced with a more advanced facility.

A Shenzhou spacecraft is prepared for flight

 

 

 

 
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November 17, 2011
Shenzhou 8 Returns To Earth
Shenzhou 8 Returns To Earth

BEIJING – China’s un-manned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft landed in in Northern China around 7:30 pm local time this morning having completed the countries first ever docking in space. Even though there were no people on board helicopters and first-aid rooms were prepared in all ten emergency landing areas.

Shenzhou 8 was launched on November 1, 2011 out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The spacecraft’s primary mission was to rendezvous and dock   with China’s new Tiangong-1 space lab which the spacecraft did two days following launch. The two spacecraft remained docked until November 14 when they separated briefly and then re-docked proving the validity of the spacecraft’s docking system. The spacecraft undocked for the final time again last night.

Following the undocking Shenzhou 8 jettisoned its orbital module which deployed its own set of solar panels and began what is expected to be a six month long independent mission. It is widely believed in that China used the orbital module for military purposes during this time.

Orbital module Shenzhou 8 then jettisoned its service module which burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The descent module next began to orient itself for reentry by turning its heat shield to face the Earth. As the spacecraft descended onboard systems guided it towards the Sziwang banner area located in the Mongolian Autonomus Region. Six of seven Shenzhou spacecraft that China has launched have landed in this area.

Once the spacecraft reaches the thickest parts of the Earth’s atmosphere it will begin to slow down at which time a small drogue chute is deployed. This parachute stabilizes the spacecraft allowing the single main chute to deploy. As the spacecraft neared the ground, rescue crews began to move in. Rescuers reported that they could see the spacecraft as it descended towards the ground. About 6 feet above the ground a series of landing rockets fired temporarily halting the spacecraft’s descent and then dropping it onto the grasslands below. Shenzhou 8’s parachute then pulled the spacecraft onto its side dragging it slightly before disconnecting.

Photo Credit: Xinhua

Upon landing rescuers moved in to begin removing experiments and other equipment. Among these were two mannequins.The first was dressed in a Chinese made spacesuit and the second in a Russian made spacesuit. This was to contrast the effectiveness of the Chinese made suit against the Russian made suit. Up till now Chinese astronauts have flown in Russian made spacesuits. They would like to start using the Chinese made suit as soon as they believe it to be safe to do so. The mannequins also help rescue crews practice removing people from the spacecraft. In addition the spacecraft carried a joint German Chinese biological experiment as well as several German and several Chinese experiments. This marked the first time that China invited a foreign government to participate in one of its manned space missions.

The Commander in chief of China’s manned space program, Chang Wanquan declared the mission to be a complete success clearing the way for a possible manned mission to Tiangong 1 early next year. Tiangong-1 is expected to host two more missions, Shenzhou-9 and 10, both of which are expected to fly next year. Given than China has never flown more than one manned mission every few years the fact that they are flying three in 14 months represents a significant ramping up of their program.

China hopes to replace Tiangong-1 with a new more capable lab in 2013 and that one with a Salyut style space station in 2015. China has announced that it will construct a permanent “Mir” style space station by the year 2020.

 

 
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Shenzhou-8 Conducts Second Docking Test

BEIJING - China’s Shenzhou-8 spacecraft has successfully disengaged and re-docked with the Tiangong-1 space lab.  Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC), which is controlling the mission from the ground, stated that the two spacecraft separated on Monday after spending 12 days together. Shenzhou 8 then backed away to a mooring point about 140 meters from Tiangong-1, paused, and then re-approached the space lab and re-docked. The entire process took about a half hour.

 
 Credit: Xinhua

The two spacecraft will spend the next two days together after which Shenzhou-8 will undock again – this time for good. The spacecraft is expected to conduct an independent mission lasting a day or so before returning to Earth Thursday night. The spacecraft’s orbital module is expected to stay in space flying on its own for another six months or so before it is destroyed in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The maneuver proves that the first docking was no accident and that the Shenzhou docking system, which contains over 10,000 parts and 600 instruments, was ready to become operational. The maneuver clears the way for a manned docking currently scheduled for early next year.

Towards that end, China has set up a “operation committee” which will manage activities aboard Tiangong-1 during its two year mission. The committee will be responsible for planning, technical appraisal, and flight control of both the Shenzhou and Tiangong-1. The committee will begin operations following the re3turn of the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft.

Tiangong-1 is expected to accommodate two more Shenzhou spacecraft and their crews before it is retired. The space lab will be replaced with a more advanced version known as Tiangong-2.

 

 
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China Space Docking A Success

BEIJING The Commander in chief of China’s manned space program, Chang Wanquan, has announced the Shenzhou-8 has successfully docked with the country’s Tiangong-1 space lab. The docking occurred at 1:36 am local time on November 3, 2011. The docking marks a critical mile stone on the road to construction a major Chinese space station by the end of the decade.

“Breakthroughs in and acquisition of space docking technologies are vital to the three phase development strategy of our manned space program” said Chinese President Hu Jintao from the G-20 summit in France.

“China is now equipped with the basic technology and capacity required for the construction of a space station” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space program.

Chinese media covered the event live and compared two spacecraft to two lovers meeting in space. In Tianfu Zaobao, a Sichuan based daily newspaper, a poem entitles “Lovers Talk” detailed how the “kiss, romantic, profound, and sweet but short” will elevate China’s aerospace enterprise to a new height. Other papers across the nation carried similar poems.

 
 Mission Control in China monitors the docking. Photo Credit: Xinhua

Following it’s launch Monday night the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft conducted a series of five engine burns designed to close the gap between itself and Tiangong-1. All of these maneuvers were conducted at the direction of controllers on the ground. All of that changed this afternoon when the spacecraft was put under automatic navigation control. From that point forward the two spacecraft operated independent of the ground for the duration of the docking.

As the two spacecraft, each weighing in at over 8 tons and flying at speeds in excess of 17,000 miles per hour, soared 343 km above the Earth’s surface they slowly closed the gap between each other with Tiangong-1 actively pursuing the passive Shenzhou-8. As the two spacecraft neared each other their relative velocity, the speed relative to each other, was slowed until the two docking rings gently touched. At this point a series of hooks and latches were deployed connecting the two rings which were then withdrawn to bring the two vehicles together in a “hard docking”.

Illistration of the Shenzhou-8 docking system. Photo Credit: Xinhua

 

The complexity of the maneuver seems to have been lost to many in the west. The world’s first docking in space took place 45 years ago and is standard procedure on most American and Russian manned space missions. Spacecraft have been docked over 300 times - but to the Chinese the event represented a huge accomplishment.

“To link up two vehicles traveling at 7.8 km per second in orbit, with a margin of error of no more than 20 centimeters, is like finding a needle in a haystack” Jianping said.

The two spacecraft will stay docked for the next 12 days while engineers evaluate the complex. They will then un-dock back away from each other and then re-dock this time proving that the system works. The spacecraft will remain docked for several more days before separation. Shenzhou-8 will then break apart into three sections. The Descent module will return to Earth. The Service Module will burn up and the Orbital module will deploy a set of solar panels and begin an independent mission which is expected to last from three to six months.

 
 Shenzhou-8 docked to Tiangong-1 Photo Credit: Xinhua

Tiangong-1 will then move into a higher orbit where it will use a special camera to photograph China’s farms and assess the health of the crops. Protein crystals will continue to be grown and other “autonomous” experiments will be carried out. Early next year China will launch Shenzhou-9 and if all went well with the rest of the Shenzhou-8 mission this one will carry a crew of three. Tiangong-1 will then lower its orbit to rendezvous with Shenzhou-9 and the two spacecraft will dock. This will mark the first time China has docked manned spacecraft. The astronauts will then enter Tiangong-1 and stay for a week or two before returning to Earth. Shenxhou-10 will be launched before the end of the year bringing three more astronauts up. This crew will stay even longer. Shenzhou-10 will probably be the last manned mission to Tiangong-1.

China plans to launch two more Tiangong space labs, each with ever increasing capabilities, until the core of their space station is launched before the end of the decade. That station will look a lot like Russia’s Mir space station weighing in at some 65 tons.

 
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China Launches Shenzhou-8 To Dock With Tiangong-1

JIUQUAN SATELLITE LAUNCH CENTER - In a thunderous pre-dawn display that promises to change the direction of the Chinese space program Shenzhou- 8, an un-manned version of the Shenzhou manned spacecraft, was successfully launched aboard a Long March CZ-2F booster.  Lift Off occurred at 5:58 am local time on November 1 out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s Gansu Province. Commander in chief of China’s manned space program Chang Wanquan declared the launch to be a complete success.

The Long March-2F booster stands 58.3 meters tall and has a liftoff weight of 497 tons. It is capable of placing up to 8.13 tons into orbit.

Shenzhou-8 launch Credit: Xinhua

Shenzhou-8’s mission will be a mile stone in the Chinese space program in that the spacecraft is planned to dock with China’s un-manned Tiangong-1 space laboratory.  If successful this will mark the first time China has docked two spacecraft in orbit. The feat paves the way for the first manned docking which should occur sometime next year.

“Although the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft is unmanned, we equip the spacecraft with devices recording real images and mechanical parameters during its flight both of which are vital to future manned missions” said Spokeswoman Wo Ping.  She went on to explain that China plans to launch two more spacecraft, Shenzhou-9 and 10, in 2012. “At least one mission of the two will be manned” she said.

Astronauts have already been selected for both missions and are already in training. The information collected during the Shenzhou-8 flight will be used to improve training for the astronauts adding a dose of reality to what until now has been purely theoretical and engineering exercises. It should be noted that if things do not go well on the Shenzhou-8 mission Shenzhou-9 will be launched un-manned and the process will continue until all of the kinks have been worked out.

China chose to dock an un-manned spacecraft to an un-manned lab before attempting a manned docking to reduce the risk the astronauts will encounter when they give it a try next year.

“”Since we have never conducted a similar test before and the system is so complicated, we have many unknowns” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program in an interview with china’s State run newspaper Xinhua. “It is highly risky”

Wu Ping put it this way “It is fairly difficulty and risky to link up two vehicles, travelling at high speeds, in orbit, with a margin of error of no more than 20 centimeters”

This is similar to the approach the Russians used in the 1960’s to hone their docking skills. Whereas the Americans chose to dock a manned spacecraft to an un-manned target the Russians chose to dock two un-manned Soyuz spacecraft before trying it with two manned vehicles.

If all goes according to plan Shenzhou-8 will catch up to and dock with China’s Tiangong-1 space lab about two days after launch at an altitude of 343 km. Once docked the two spacecraft will remain docked for about 12 days. Shenzhou-8 will then un-dock and fly independently for a period of time before re-docking. After a period of time the two spacecraft will separate and Shenzhou-8 will return to Earth. Shenzhou-8 is capable of staying docked to Tiangong-1 for up to 180 days although it is doubtful the spacecraft will spend that much time at the lab. The Germans have already announced that their experiments are expected to come home within 17 days.

Tiangong-1 docked to Shenzhou-8 Photo Credit: Xinhua

Although docking is the primary goal for the flight Shenzhou-8 will also carry 17 life science experiments. Ten of these are Chinese, 6 are German, and one is a joint project.

“It is the first time for China’s manned space program to carry out international cooperation in the field of space life science” Wu said. “The experiments are of great significance in promoting the study and development of microgravity science and space life science”

Shenzhou-8 measures 9 meters in length and 2.8 meters in diameter at its widest part. The spacecraft has a lift off weight of 8.082 tones. The spacecraft has been heavily modified for this mission.

“More than half of the 600 or so sets of equipment have been modified technically, while newly designed devices account for about 15% of the total” said Wu.

Most of the modifications were aimed at providing the spacecraft with automated docking capabilities and enhancing the spacecraft’s safety and reliability.

Since its launch last month, Tiangong-1 has been busy preparing itself to receive Shenzhou-8. The atmosphere and climate has been adjusted as if the spacecraft were carrying a real crew. The spacecraft preformed a 180 degree turn on Sunday to orient the space lab for docking. Tiangong-1 has been also conducting automated experiments involving, among other things, protein crystals and using a special camera to assess the health of the countries agriculture.

Two additional Tiangong space labs will be launched over the next five or six years. Each will have improved capabilities and culminate with the construction of a large, Mir like, space station near the end of the decade.

“We have full confidence in the successful launch of Shenzhou-8 as well as the rendezvous and docking mission” Wu said.

 

 

 
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China Set To Launch Shenzhou-8 In Earty November

BEIJING - Chinese State run media are reporting that the launch of Shenzhou-8 will occur in early November – possibly as early as next week. The launch of the un-manned spacecraft will be conducted out of the Jiunquan Satellite Launch Center in North West China.  The launch is significant because the spacecraft is expected to dock with China’s recently launched Tiangong-1 mini space laboratory.A feat never before accomplished by China.

The official State newspaper Xinhua is reporting the spacecraft, mounted atop its Long March 2F booster was rolled out to the launch pad today. The 1,500 meter trip to the launch pad took about two hours to complete. Technicians have begun attaching umbilical’s to the booster and the spacecraft in preparation for pre-launch testing and fueling. Normally a Long March 2F will roll to the launch pad about a week before launch.

Once launched Shenzhou-8 will take about two days to reach Tiangong-1 . It will then dock with the lab and remain docked for several weeks as ground controllers evaluate the complex. The spacecraft will then un-dock and fly independent for a time before re-docking. The two will remain docked for several more weeks before the two vehicles separate permanently. Shenzhou-8 will separate into three parts. The service module will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and be destroyed. The capsule will return to Earth, and as usual the orbital module will remain on orbit flying an independent mission before it also re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and is destroyed.

If all goes well with the Shenzhou-8 mission Shenzhou-9 will launch early next year and preform the first manned docking of two Chinese spacecraft. The astronauts will then enter the lab and stay for several weeks before returning to Earth. The Shenzhou spacecraft is capable of docking in either manual or automatic mode.

Meanwhile on orbit Tiangong-1 has not been sitting idle. The atmosphere and climate aboard the lab have been adjusted to levels acceptable to humans. It has also begun using its primary science instrument, a multispectral camera, to photograph China’s agricultural lands in hopes of giving farmers a look at insect damage, drought damage and fertilizer effects on their crops. Crystal growth experiments have also begun aboard the lab and mechanical inspections indicate that all is functioning well.

Contact The Author - Robert@interspacenews.com

Shenzhou-8 rolls to the launch pad Photo Credit: Xinhua

 

 

Shenzhou-8 is seen here undergoing pre-launch testing. Photo Credit: Xinhua

 

 
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China Launches Tiangong-1 Space Lab

JIUQUAN – China has successfully launched its first mini-space station Tiangong-1. Lift off occurred on time at 9:16 pm (Beijing time) on Thursday September 29, 2011.

Editors Note: Additional photos can be found on our facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/interspacenews/108744115825652

And in the Shenzhou section of this site: http://www.interspacenews.com/Shenzhou/tabid/174/Default.aspx

Here is a video of the launch http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=49aGnLOpdZs

Chinese President Hu Jianto was on hand to witness the launch from the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center along with other high ranking government officials. The leaders were seen applauding and shaking hands during the launch.

Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly Palace-1” in mandarin, is the first in a series of mini space stations that China plans to launch to prepare for the construction of a 70 ton space station by the year 2020. The module is 35 feet long and 11 feet in diameter making it slightly smaller than the Soviet Salyut space stations. It consists of two main modules. The first is a resource module which is a narrow cylinder that juts out the back of the spacecraft. It has two solar panels that provide power to Tiangong-1 and also contains all of the spacecraft’s life support and maneuvering equipment.

 
 Source: China Daily

The second module is the experiment module. This is where the astronauts will work during their stay at the lab. The module has about 15 cubic meters of habitable space inside and has been fitted with a docking port at one end. It is interesting to note that the docking port is identical to the one that both Russia and the United States use on their spacecraft. It is believed that the Chinese did this intentionally so that their spacecraft would be compatible with the International Space Station.

The interior of the experiment module has been painted with Earth tones on the floor and sky tones on the ceiling so that astronauts working within will have a sense of up and down even though there is no up and down in space. There is a small sleeping station at one end large enough for one man to sleep in. There is also an independent communication system and an entertainment system inside the module. The Orbital module of the Shenzhou fairy spacecraft will contain sleeping quarters for the other two members of the crew as well as a kitchen and toilet facilities.

The primary function of the spacecraft is to serve as a docking target but once this has been achieved there are a variety of experiments on board. Two windows inside the experiment module will allow the crew to conduct Earth observations. Observations of China’s farm lands will be conducted using a special hyperspectral camera that has been installed inside the module. The camera will enable scientists to monitor such things as heavy metal pollution, pesticide residue, and plant disease. In addition to the camera the spacecraft comes equipped with facilities to study photonic crystals – a material that is expected to revolutionize information technologies here on Earth and other expariments.

Now that Tiangong-1 is in space, the next step will be to check the spacecraft’s health which will take several weeks. Once all has been confirmed to be in working order, engineers will adjust the spacecraft’s atmosphere to make sure that the correct amounts of oxygen, moisture, and heat are present. The spacecraft will then be lowered from its 350 km orbit to a 343 km orbit. With this accomplished China will launch the un-manned Shenzhou 8. This launch is expected in early November. The two spacecraft will  rendezvous and dock about two days following launch. This will mark the first time that China has docked two spacecraft in orbit.

Cut away view of a Shenzhou spacecraft. The orbital module is on the left, the descent module is in the center, and the service module is at the right Credit: CCTV

Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou 8 will stay docked for about 12 days while engineers evaluate how well the two spacecraft are interfacing. Shenzhou 8 will then un-dock and fly independently for a period of time before once again approaching Tiangong-1 and re-docking. Once the docking experiments are over the two spacecraft will separate. Shenzhou 8 will return to Earth and its service module will burn up in the atmosphere. As is customary, the spacecraft’s orbital module will unfold its own set of solar panels and conduct an independent mission for several months before it is also destroyed in the atmosphere.

If everything goes well with the Shenzhou 8 mission China plans to launch three astronauts to the lab early next year aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft. This will mark China’s first manned space docking. Chinese space officials are quick to note that if things do not go according to plan on Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9 will not carry people. But assuming that all goes well the astronauts will board Tiangong-1 and stay for several weeks before returning home. China plans to launch Shenzhou 10 before the end of 2012. During this mission the astronauts are expected to stay for even longer than they did during the Shenzhou 9 mission.

Given that China has launched only three manned spacecraft since its first back in 2003, launching three in one year marks a significant ramping up of the country’s spaceflight capabilities.

Tiangong-1 will be followed by Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 with a three year interval between each launch. Each of these labs will build upon the accomplishments of the others. Eventually these labs will all be evolved to become a series of radial laboratory modules attached to a core module that will form China’s first true space station. Other Tiangong modules will be evolved into space freighters that will carry large amounts of cargo to the station. China plans to orbit the first components of the station in 2020.

 
 China's planned 70 ton space station. Credit: Xinhua

In order to accommodate Tiangong-1 China had to significantly modify its Long March 2F booster. Over 170 such modifications were made including a new larger payload fairing and reshaped boosters that can produce more thrust. Many of the modifications stem from the loss of an experimental satellite aboard a similar booster last month. The incident prompted a one month delay in the launch of Tiangong-1. The launch was delayed an additional two days due to weather.

It is interesting to note that once the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft docks it will mark the first time two separate orbiting stations have been occupied simultaneously – Tiangong-1 and ISS. 

Contact the author: Robert@interspacenews.com

 
 Diagram of the Long March 2F booster used to launch Tiangong-1 Credit: Xinhua
Launch of Tiangong-1 Photo Credit: Xinhua

Contact The Author- Robert@Interspacenews.com
 

 
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Final Preperations For Tiangong-1 Launch Underway

JIUQUAN SATELLITE LAUNCH CENTER – Chinese State run media is reporting that final preparations are underway for the launch of China’s first “mini-space station” Tiangong-1. Lift off of the 8.5 ton module should occur on Thursday between 9:16 p.m. and 9:31 p.m. (local time) out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long March 2F booster.

A spokesperson with China's manned space program said today that "fuel has been injected into the Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket in preparation for launching the Tiangong-1 space module Thursday evening as planned."

According to authorities, the Long March 2F booster has been modified significantly for this mission. These modifications include a new larger payload fairing and re-shaped booster rockets to provide additional thrust during launch.

"Tiangong-1 is a brand new spacecraft designed by China and is bigger and heavier than the Shenzhou spaceships China had developed as a means of transporting astronauts from the Earth to space," said Yang Hong, chief designer of Tiangong-1 in an interview with State run media.

Tiangong-1 is 35 feet long and 11 feet in diameter at its widest. (For comparison a Shenzhou spacecraftis only 9 meters in long and 3 meters in diameter). It consists of two major modules - an “experimental module” and a “resource module”. The resource module provides power to the station through the use of two solar panels. It also provides life support and maneuverability. The experiment module is pressurized and this is where the crew will live and work.

 

 

Recently details of what lies inside the experiment module have begun to emerge revealing that the facility is not nearly as spartan as had first been believed. The module has about 15 cubic meters of habitable space inside and it is fitted with a docking port on one end. There is a small sleeping area (possible only big enough for only one man), an exercise area, and two port holes. In addition to experiments, the section also possesses independent communications equipment and an entertainment system.   

 

Much like the early Soviet space stations, the inside of the experiment module has been painted with an Earth tone on the floor and a sky tone on the ceiling. This is so that the crew can have a sense of up and down even though there is no up and down in space.

 

Once in space Tsiangong-1 will be checked out and then adjusted so that the correct amounts of oxygen, moisture, and heat are present. Then, sometime in early November, China will launch Shenzhou 8. Tsiangong-1 will then drop from its 350 km high orbit to a 343 km orbit to rendezvous with the spacecraft. The two will then dock about two days into the flight. This will mark the firstrst time that two Chinese spacecraft have docked in orbit.

The Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8 will stay docked for about 12 days. They will then seperate and re-dock at some point in the future.  Once the docking tests have been finished, Shenzhou-8 will return to Earth and the Tiangong-1 will return to its origional orbit to await the next visiters. It will not have to wait long.

 

If all goes will China will launch Shenzhou 9 early next year carrying what is believed to be a crew of three to the station. They will conduct China’s first manned docking and spend several weeks aboard the complex. Shenzhou 10 will be launched later that same year to re-visit the station and stay for an even longer period of time.

China plans to launch two more Tiangong class spacecraft before beginning construction of its first large space station around the year 2020. 

The Tiangong-1 was originally scheduled to be launched into low Earth orbit between Sept. 27 and 30. The launch was then rescheduled for Sept. 29 or 30 due to weather conditions.

 

 

 
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China To Launch Tiangong-1 Next Week

BEIJING - China has announced that it will launch the first of three planned mini-space stations between September 27 and 30th. Tiangong-1, which means “Heavenly Palace” in Chinese, will blast off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province aboard a Long March II-F rocket.

The rocket, with Tiangong-1 in its nose, was rolled out to the launch pad on Tuesday and is now undergoing final preparations for launch.

"Scientists will conduct final tests in the next few days before injecting propellants for the launch," said  Cui Jijun, director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The launch had been planned for late August but was delayed when a Long March II-c booster malfunctioned during launch resulting in the loss of an experimental satellite. Those problems have aparently been resolved.

Tiangong-1 is an 8.5 ton mini-space station that will be used as “a platform to test long term unmanned and short term manned operations”. The primary function of the module is to provide Chinese astronauts with experience docking manned spacecraft. The ability to rendezvous and dock is considered critical to a modern space program. But once docked the crew will enter Tiangong-1 and stay for a week or two conducting medical and scientific experiments.

"Rendezvous and docking are difficult because it is like asking two racing cars to keep a distance of 1 meter between them," said Jiao Weixin, a space scientist at Peking University

Once launched Tiangong-1 will be given a thorough check. Then, sometime before the end of the year,  China plans to launch the un-manned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft which will perform the countries first docking of two spacecraft in space. That launch will be followed next year with the launch of two manned spacecraft – Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X which will both spend periods of time at the station.

China hopes to use the experience gained through Tiangong-1, along with two additional spacecraft Tiangong-2 and Tiangong 3, to construct a 70 ton space station around the year 2020

Contact the author: Robert@interspacenews.com

To learn more about Tiangong-1 click here http://www.interspacenews.com/FeatureArticle/tabid/130/Default.aspx?id=7290

Tiangong-1 Photo Credit: China TV

 

 
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China Launches Zhongxing-1A Communications Satellite

 XICHANG - China has announced the sucessfull launch of the Zhongxing-1A Communications Satellite. The spacecraft was launched out of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long March 3-B booster.

The satellite is based on China's Dong Fang Hong-4 satellite bus which is a third generation satellite platform designed for long service life. It is basically a propulson module and a service module powered by six solar arrays. The spacecraft has a mass of 5,200 kg.

It is widley believed that  Zhongxing-1A is a part of a relay satellite constelation being constructed to support China's manned spacflight program.

Zhongxing-1A was designed and manufactured by the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Contact the aurthor: Robert@interspacenews.com

 
 Launch of ZhongXing-1A Photo Credit: Xinhua

 

 
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China Moves Ahead With Production of New Rocket

BEIJING – China has announced that its new Long March 5 booster rocket is now in production. The long March 5 is the first in a new generation of heavy lift boosters that China plans to unveil over the next few years. Sources now say that the first Long March 5 launch will occur during the countries 12th five year plan (2011 – 2015). Most likely around 2014.

The Long March 5 booster is powered by new YF-100 and YF-77 booster engines. The YF-100 is fueled by kerosene and liquid oxygen. The YF-77 is powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Both are based on the Russian RD-120 engine used to power the Zenit family of boosters.

The booster itself incorporates a modular design built around a core powered by two YF-77 engines. Alongside the core are two assist boosters each fitted with two YF-100 engines. The upper stage has a single YF-75D engine like the one currently used on the Long March 3 booster. By mixing and matching these components the booster becomes very flexible and capable of flying a broad variety of payloads.

With a maximum low Earth-orbit payload capacity of 25 tons and high Earth-orbit payload capacity of 14 tons, the Long March V rockets will be among the worlds largest.

In order to construct these new boosters China has constructed a new 220,000 sq m workshop at the Tianjin Aerospace Industry Base. According to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) 6 billion yuan (938 million USD) has been invested in the construction effort to date. The entire 313.33 hectare site will eventually be converted into a state of the art rocket development complex intended for the design, production, assembly, and testing, of the next generation of rockets and spacecraft.

It is not clear weather or not China intends to actualy launch the rockets from the complex as well.

China is developing the new generation of rockets for use in the development and deployment of a 70 ton manned space station and a possible trip to the moon. Production of these spacecraft will also begin during the 2011-2015 time frame.

 Contact the author: Robert@interspacenews.com

 
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