China launches Shenzhou-8 bound for Historic 1st Docking in Space

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China today launched the Shenzhou-8 capsule on a historic mission to accomplish the nation’s first ever docking in space with another vehicle, already in orbit, and pave the way toward’s China’s true ambition – constructing a multi-module space station by 2020.

The unpiloted Shenzhou-8 streaked skywards today in a blinding flash atop a powerful and upgraded Long March 2F/Y8 carrier rocket in the early morning darkness and precisely on time at 5:58 a.m. Beijing time (5:58 p.m. EDT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. Viewers could watch a live CCTV broadcast from state media broadcast in English.

The Long March first stage is augmented with four liquid fueled strap on boosters. Spectacular TV views show the boosters and payload fairings being jettisoned.

The goal of the mission is for China to master critical and complex rendezvous and docking technologies and link up with China’s 1st orbiting prototype space station module dubbed Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1.

A modified model of the Long March CZ-2F rocket carrying the unmanned spacecraft. Shenzhou-8 blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, Nov. 1, 2011. Credit: Xinhua/Li Gang

The historic docking of Shenzhou-8 with Tiangong-1 will be a highly significant achievement and is set to take place after the capsule catches up with the module in two days time. Tiangong-1 has been orbiting Earth since it was launched a month ago from the same launch site.

“The Launch of Shenzhou 8 has been a great success !”, announced Gen. Chang Wanquan, the Commander in Chief of China’s manned space program known as the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) Project. Chang, dressed in his military uniform, is Commanding Officer of Tiangong 1/Shenzhou 8 Rendezvous and Docking Mission Headquarters, and director of the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) General Armaments Department.

Shenzhou-8 blasted off on Nov.1 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Credit: CMSE

“The Shenzhou 8 spaceship has entered at 6:07:53 its operating orbit with a perigee height of 200 km and apogee height of 329 km.”

The unmanned Shenzhou capsule entered orbit 585 seconds after liftoff while flying over the Pacific Ocean and placed the spacecraft into an initial elliptical orbit.

Shenzhou-8 will conduct five orbital maneuvers by firing its on board thrusters to match orbits and close in Tiangong-1 over the next two days and is on course for the linkup. Each vehicle weighs about 8 tons.

The two vehicles will remain docked for 12 days. Shenzhou-8 will then undock and separate and attempt another practice docking.

After several more days of joint operations the Shenzhou-8 capsule will depart and reenter the earth as though it had a crew.

Shenzhou-8 is fully equipped to carry an astronaut crew and even food and water are stored on board.

Today’s success sets the stage for two Chinese manned missions to follow in 2012, namely Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10. They will each carry two or three astronauts.

Schematic of Shenzhou-8 (left) and Tiangong-1 space station module (right) accomplishing historic first Chinese docking in Earth orbit. Credit: CMSE

The Tiangong-1 target module was launched from Jiuquan on September 29 and is functioning perfectly. Its orbit was already lowered and the ship was rotated 180 degrees in anticipation of today’s liftoff.

The Long March 2F booster is the tallest, heaviest and most powerful in China’s rocket arsenal.

China’s state run CCTV carried the launch live and provided excellent and informative commentary that harkened back to the glory days of NASA’s Apollo moon landing project. The Chinese government and people take great pride in the accomplishments of their space program which is vaulting China to the forefront of mastering technologically difficult achievements.

Long range tracking cameras and on board cameras captured exquisite views of Shenzhou-8 maneuver all the way to orbit, including separation of the first stage booster, jettison of the payload fairing, firing of the 2nd stage engines, deployment of the twin solar arrays, live shots inside the capsule and beautiful views of mother Earth some 200 kilometers below.

Read Ken’s related features about China’s Shenzhou-8, Tiangong-1 and Yinghou-1
Shenzhou-8 rolled out for Blastoff to China’s 1st Space Station on November 1
Bizarre Video: China’s Tiangong 1 Space Lab Animation set to ‘America the Beautiful’ Soundtrack
China Blasts First Space Lab Tiangong 1 to Orbit
China set to ‘Leap Forward in Space’ as Tiangong 1 Rolls to Launch Pad
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline

Shenzhou-8 rolled out for Blastoff to China’s 1st Space Station on November 1

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China’s Shenzhou-8 capsule and the Long March booster rocket have been rolled out to the Gobi desert launch pad and will blast off early on November 1 bound for the 1st orbiting Chinese prototype space station – named Tiangong-1 (which translates as Heavenly Palace-1).

If successful, the Shenzhou -8/Tiangong -1 combined orbital complex will certainly be a ‘great leap forward’ for China’s space program ambitions and technological prowess while NASA’s current and future ambitions are being significantly curtailed by relentless budget cuts directed by politicians in Washington, D.C. – a fact noted by Chinese media.

Shenzhou-8, an unmanned spacecraft, and its carrier, Long March 2-F, are transported to the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China's Gansu province. It is expected to perform China's first space docking with Tiangong-1, a lab module that went up in September from the same facility. Credit: Su Dong/China Daily

The unmanned Shenzhou- 8 capsule will lift off at 5:58 a.m. local time from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located in Gansu province in northwest China.

Propellants are being loaded into the upgraded Long March 2F/Y8 carrier rocket today (Oct. 31). All launch preparations and tests are proceeding on schedule according to to the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) office – the state run government agency responsible for China’s human spaceflight program.

Prelaunch exercises are being coordinated by the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center, the command center for the Chinese space program.

The fully assembled vehicles were vertically transported some 1500 meters over about 2 hours along rail tracks from China’s version of NASA’s VAB, or the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The 8 ton Tiangong-1 target module was launched from Jiuquan on September 29 and is functioning perfectly

The Shenzhou VIII spacecraft is assembled with the Long-March II-F rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China's Gansu province on Oct 23, 2011. Credit: CFP

The Long March 2F booster is the tallest, heaviest and most powerful in China’s arsenal of rockets.

Tiangong-1 has been maneuvered to rotate 180 degrees in orbit in anticipation of the upcoming launch according to CMSE.

The emergency escape tower is hoisted to Shenzhou-8 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Oct 23, 2011. Credit: CFP

Shenzhou is China’s human rated capsule but is flying in an unmanned configuration for this flight – #8 – which will be China’s first ever attempt at critical Rendezvous & Docking maneuvers in earth orbit that are required to construct a Space Station- China’s long term goal by 2020 .

Shenzhou-8 will conduct at least two docking practice tests. After the first docking, the two ships will remain joined for about 12 days and then separate to carry out another docking.

So far China has conducted 3 manned flights, the first in 2003. Currently the US has no capability to launch astronauts to earth orbit and the ISS and is totally reliant on Russian Soyuz rockets and capsules to hitch a ride to space.

Two crewed flights to Tiangiong-1 are planned for 2012. The multi-person crews aboard Shenzhou 9 & Shenzhou 10 are likely to include China’s first woman astronaut. The chinese crews would float into Tiangong 1 from their capsules and remain on board for short duration missions of a few days or weeks. They will check out the space systems and conduct medical, space science and technology tests and experiments.

Read Ken’s related features about China’s Shenzhou-8, Tiangong-1 and Yinghou-1
Bizarre Video: China’s Tiangong 1 Space Lab Animation set to ‘America the Beautiful’ Soundtrack
China Blasts First Space Lab Tiangong 1 to Orbit
China set to ‘Leap Forward in Space’ as Tiangong 1 Rolls to Launch Pad
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline

Russia Fuels Phobos-Grunt and sets Mars Launch for November 9

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Russia’s Space Agency, Roscosmos, has set November 9 as the launch date for the Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars and its tiny moon Phobos. Roscosmos has officially announced that the audacious mission to retrieve the first ever soil samples from the surface of Phobos will blastoff from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Zenit-2SB rocket at 00:16 a.m. Moscow time.

Roscosmos said that engineers have finished loading all the propellants into the Phobos-Grunt main propulsion module (cruise stage), Phobos lander and Earth return module at Facility 31 at Baikonur.

Phobos-Grunt is Russia’s first mission to Mars in almost two decades and a prelude to an ambitious program of even more interplanetary Russian science flights.

Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft is set to launch to Mars on November 9, 2011.
L-shaped soil sample transfer tube extends from Earth return module ( top -yellow) and solar panel to bottom (left) of lander module. 2 landing legs, communications antenna, sampling arm, propulsion tanks and more are visible. Credit Roscosmos

Technicians also fueled the companion Yinghou-1 mini-satellite, provided by China, that will ride along inside a truss segment between the MDU propulsion module and the Phobos-Grunt lander.

The 12,000 kg Phobos-Grunt interplanetary spacecraft is being moved to an integration and test area at Facility 31 for integration with the departure segments of the Zenit rocket.

The next step is to enclose Phobos-Grunt inside the protective payload fairing and transport it to Facility 42 for mating atop the upper stage of the stacked Zenit-2SB booster rocket.

After about an 11 month journey, the spaceship will enter Mars orbit and spend several months searching for a suitable landing site on Phobos. The goal of the bold mission is to retrieve up to 200 grams of soil and rock from Phobos and return them to Earth in August 2014. The samples will help unlock the mysteries of the origin and evolution of Phobos, Mars and the Solar System.

Scientists hope that bits of Martian soil will be mixed in with Phobos soil.

Phobos-Grunt is equipped with a powerful 50 kg payload of some 20 international science instruments.

The 110 kg Yinghou-1, which translates as Firefly-1, is China’s first spaceship to voyage to Mars. It will be jettisoned by Phobos-Grunt into a separate orbit about Mars. The probe will photograph the Red planet with two cameras and study it with a magnetometer to explore Mars’ magnetic field and science instruments to explore its upper atmosphere.

Earth’s other mission to Mars in 2011, NASA’s Curiosity rover, is set to blast off for Mars on Nov. 25

Labeled Schematic of Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 (YH-1) orbiter

Read Ken’s continuing features about Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Mars mission here::
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline
Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff

Read Ken’s continuing features about Curiosity starting here:
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action

Bizarre Video: China’s Tiangong 1 Space Lab Animation set to ‘America the Beautiful’ Soundtrack


The Guardian newspaper in England is reporting that China’s state run television, CCTV, and China’s space agency released a video animation of the just launched Tiangong 1 miniature space station showing extensive footage of rendezvous and docking maneuvers in Earth orbit that is inexplicably set to the tune of “America the Beautiful”, a patriotic hymn that many American’s regard as a second, unofficial national anthem. Watch the YouTube video above and decide yourself.

The Guardian writes; “While China’s leaders were celebrating the triumphant launch of Tiangong-1 space lab on Thursday (Sept 29) , viewers of state television footage [CCTV] were treated to a bizarre choice of soundtrack: America the Beautiful”.

Selecting “America the Beautiful’ for the Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace 1) launch sound track seems rather questionable, says the Guardian, and it’s hard to tell if this was choice was intentional or an error by the propaganda department

“Is this the work of an idealist seeking to usher in a new era of trans-Pacific co-operation, a nationalist who wants to colonise American culture as well as outer space, or simply a propaganda gaffe?” – wrote the Guardian

A CCTV official quoted by the Guardian could not offer any clarification.

“I don’t know how to answer your question,” Chen Zhansheng of the CCTV propaganda department said. “I cannot help you.”

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The CCTV website states that the animation was provided by the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and provides a detailed description. Since the Guardian’s story, the animation has been deleted by CCTV.

The animation itself begins with a simulated launch of Tiangong-1 aboard the Long March 2F rocket and then shows the upcoming rendezvous and docking sequence with the Shenzhou-8 unmanned capsule that is set to launch in early November

Two days after blastoff of Shenzhou-8, it will complete China’s first rendezvous and docking in space. After about 12 days, the two spacecraft are due to uncouple.

China will then attempt another docking to gain more practice ahead of the launch of two manned Shenzhou capsules scheduled for 2012 (Shenzhou-9 and 10) with crews of two or three Chinese astronauts, one of whom may be a woman.

Check this action packed alternate version I found, in Chinese, which is set to different music and with even more extensive animation of the Tiangong 1/Shenzhou-8 joint mission.

One thing absolutely clear is that China is aggressively pushing forward with its manned space program, while the US space program retrenches due to continual budget cutbacks.

China plans to orbit a 60 ton, 3 module manned space station by 2020, about the time when the lifetime of the ISS may be coming to an end, unless the international partners agree to fund an extension of its orbital research activities.

The Chinese space station would be about the size of America’s first space station – Skylab.

In the meantime, officials at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center report that they continue adjusting the orbit of the 10 meter long Tiangong-1 space lab module.

Read Ken’s related features about Tiangong 1
China Blasts First Space Lab Tiangong 1 to Orbit
China set to ‘Leap Forward in Space’ as Tiangong 1 Rolls to Launch Pad

China Blasts First Space Lab Tiangong 1 to Orbit

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China launched their first space station module into orbit today (Sept. 29), marking a major milestone in the rapidly expanding Chinese space program. The historic liftoff of the man rated Tiangong 1 (Heavenly Palace 1) space lab on a Long March 2F rocket took place at 9:16 p.m. local time (9:16 a.m. EDT) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located in Gansu province in northwest China and is an impressive advance for China.

The beautiful nighttime liftoff occurred exactly on time and was carried live on China’s state run television – CCTV – and on the internet for all to see. Chinese President Hu Jintao and many of China’s other top government leaders witnessed the launch from the Beijing Aerospace Control Center as a gesture of confidence and support. Their presence was a clear sign of just how important China’s top leadership considers investments in research as a major driver of technological innovation that is bolstering China’s vigorously growing economy and employing tens of thousands of people.

The US – in sharp contrast – is cutting space spending and handing out pink slips to many thousands of shuttle workers, CCTV noted.

As a CCTV commentator said after the successful Tiangong 1 launch, “30 Years ago it was ‘science fiction’ to imagine a Chinese astronaut in space. Today it’s a reality!”

Long range cameras tracked rocket for several minutes and clearly showed the jettisoning of the first stage boosters and the payload fairing.

“The launch of Tiangong 1 has been successfully completed,” announced Gen. Chang Wanquan, chief commander of China’s manned space engineering project on CCTV

Liftoff of March 2F rocket with Tiangong 1 space lab on Sept. 29, 2011. Credit: CCTV

Tiangiong 1 will serve a crucial role as a docking target to carry out China’s first rendezvous and docking in space- initially with an unmanned vehicle and thereafter with astronauts crews. The US and the Soviet Union mastered these technologies back in the 1960’s, and China is rapidly catching up now.

Rendezvous and docking are key accomplishments that China must achieve in order to move forward and accomplish even more ambitious space goals – construction of a 60 ton space station by the year 2020.

The two stage Long March 2F rocket was upgraded with more than 170 improvements including a larger payload fairing to house bigger Tiangong 1 module, four longer liquid fueled strap on boosters with more powerful thrust capability and more precise guidance systems.

The 8.5 ton Tiangong 1 was designed to stay in space for at least 2 years and support crews of up to three astronauts for short duration stays. It will be the target of at least three upcoming space missions – Shenzhou 8, 9 and 10.

China’s Long March 2F rocket blasts Tiangong 1 to orbit on Sept. 29, 2011. Credit: CCTV

Shenzhou is China’s human spaceflight capsule, derived from the Russian Soyuz and also significantly upgraded with China’s own nationally developed technology.

The unmanned Shenzhou 8 will launch in about 1 month according to officials from the China Manned Space Engineering Office and reach the vicinity of Tiangong 1 after 2 days. Shenzhou 8 will conduct at least two practice test dockings to extensively check out all systems and experience.

Shenzhou 9 and 10 will dock during 2012 and are likely to include the first female Chinese astronaut.

Tiangong 1 is a prototype miniture space station module, not fully outfitted for long duration stays of astronauts. The space lab consists of two segments – a forward habitable, pressurized section for the astronauts (measuring some 530 cubic feet in volume) and an unpressurized resource compartment in the rear with two solar arrays consisting of four segments to provide ample power.

Historic liftoff of China’s first man rated Tiangong 1 space module atop a Long March 2F rocket on Sept. 29, 2011 at 9:16 p.m. local time from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province, China. Credit: CCTV

Read Ken’s related feature about Tiangong 1
China set to ‘Leap Forward in Space’ as Tiangong 1 Rolls to Launch Pad

China set to ‘Leap Forward in Space’ as Tiangong 1 Rolls to Launch Pad

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China’s human spaceflight program is gearing up to take a highly significant “Leap forward in Space” after their “Tiangong 1” prototype space station was rolled out to the remote Gobi desert launch pad at the countries Jiuquan Satellite Launching Center in Gansu Province in anticipation of blastoff sometime this week.

Space officials from the Chinese Manned Space Engineering Office have now confirmed that liftoff of the 8.5 ton Tiangong 1 human rated module atop a Long March CZ-IIF booster rocket is slated to take place during a launch window that extends from Sept. 27 to Sept. 30. The launch was delayed a few days after the recent launch failure of a similar Chinese rocket, the Long March IIC.

China’s burgeoning space efforts come directly on the heels of the voluntary US shutdown of the Space Shuttle program, thereby dismantling all US capability to launch humans into space from American soil for several years until about 2014 at a minimum.

The US manned spaceflight capability gap will be stretched out even further if NASA’s budget for commercial space taxis and the newly proposed SLS launch system is cut by political leaders in Washington, DC.

The integrated Tiangong 1 spacecraft and CZ-2F launch vehicle combination is slowly rolling out of the VAB facility

On Sept. 20, the integrated Long March rocket and Tiangong module were wheeled out of China’s VAB while sitting on top of the Mobile Launch Platform and transferred to the launch gantry at Jiuguan.

The goal of the Tiangong 1 mission is to carry out China’s first human spaceflight related rendezvous and docking mission and to demonstrate that Chinese space engineers have mastered the complicated technology required for a successful outcome.

These skills are akin in complexity to NASA’s Gemini manned program of the 1960’s which paved the way for NASA’s Apollo missions and led directly to the first manned landing on the moon in 1969 by Apollo 11.

Chinas stated goal is to construct a 60 ton Skylab sized space station in earth orbit by 2020.

Check out this CCTV video for further details and imagery of the Chinese space hardware which shows the how China will expand the reach and influence of their space program.

View this Chinese video from NDTV for a glimpse at Chinas long range Space Station plans.

The 40 foot long Tiangong 1 space platform is unmanned and will serve as the docking target for China’s manned Shenzhou capsules in a series of stepping stone learning flights. It is solar powered and equipped to operate in a man-tended mode for short duration missions and in an unmanned mode over the long term.

The initial rendezvous and docking mission will be conducted by the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft, which will fly in an unmanned configuration for the first docking test. Shenzhou 8 is scheduled to soar to space before the end of 2011.

If successful, China plans to quickly follow up with the launch of two manned Shenzhou flights to dock at Tiangong 1 during 2012 – namely Shenzhou 9 & Shenzhou 10.

The multi astronaut chinese crews would float into Tiangong 1 and remain on board for a short duration period of a few days or weeks. The crew would conduct medical, space science and technology tests and experiments.

China’s first female astronaut may be selected to fly as a crew member on one of the two Shenzhou flights in 2012.

Meanwhile, all American astronauts will be completely dependent on the Russian Soyuz capsule for trips to the International Space Station. Russia is still working to correct the third stage malfunction which doomed the recent Progress cargo resupply launch and put a halt to Soyuz launches.

Engineers and technicians are in the process of checking out all Tiangong 1 systems and preliminary weather reports from Chinese media appear favorable for launch.

Shenzhou 8 has also been delivered to the Jinquan launch complex for check out of all systems

Get set for China’s attempt at a ‘Space Spectacular’

The integrated Tiangong 1 spacecraft and CZ-2F combination is transferring to the launch site

China To Launch Space Station Module Prototype

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China’s space program is in the news again, this time with unconfirmed reports that the Tiangong 1 space lab may be launching into orbit sometime this year – possibly later this month.  Previous news reports cited potential launch dates in 2010 or 2011,  so this launch isn’t too far behind schedule.

What plans does China have for their first orbital space station prototype?

The space lab, named “Tiangong” translates from Mandarin Chinese into English as “Heavenly Palace”.  Weighing just under 9 tons, the prototype module will orbit for two years. China will use the module to practice docking maneuvers and test orbital technologies during the module’s lifetime.

China plans to follow the Tiangong 1 orbital lab with two more lab launches over the next few years to continue testing systems and technologies before starting construction on their own space station in the 2020’s.  Based on China’s current plans, the Tiangong orbital labs will not be used in the Chinese space station.

Artists rendering of a Tiangong module performing a docking procedure with a Shenzhou spacecraft. Image Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office

Many space analysts believe China’s lack of a perceived “space race” is a potential reason for the country’s slow, methodical space program build-up.  So far, China has only launched three manned space flights:  Shenzhou 5 and Shenzhou 6 ( 2003 and 2005, respectively). China’s first mission to include a spacewalk was Shenzhou 7 (2008).

While China is making great strides with their manned space program, there are no current plans to include China in the ongoing International Space Station project.  Despite several political and technological issues preventing China’s participation in the ISS, recent comments from officials at the China National Space Administration have indicated a willingness to allow other countries to visit the country’s space station once it is operational.

If you’d like to learn more, Universe Today has previous coverage (Jan. 2010) on the Tiangong mission at: http://www.universetoday.com/51506/china-to-launch-space-station-in-2010-or-2011.

You can also visit the China National Space Administration’s website at: http://www.cnsa.gov.cn/n615709/cindex.html

Can China enter the international space family?

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It has often been called a ‘100 billion boondoggle’ – yet it is also unquestionably one of the most successful international programs in human history. The International Space Station (ISS) is just now starting to produce some of the valuable science that was the station’s selling point from the beginning. However, this delay can be attributed to the numerous tragedies, economic woes and other issues that have arisen on a global scale through the course of the station’s construction.

The one thing that the world learned early on from the ISS experience is that space is a great forum for diplomacy. One time arch-rivals now work side by side on a daily basis.

With much of the nations of the world talking about stepped-up manned exploration efforts it would seem only natural that the successful model used on the space station be incorporated into the highly-expensive business of manned space exploration. If so, then one crucial player is being given a hard look to see if they should be included – China.

Will we one day see Chinese taikonauts working alongside U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts? Only time will tell. Photo Credit: NASA

“International partnership in space exploration has proven its worth over the last decade. It would be a positive step if the other space-faring nation of the world, China, were to join the assembled space explorers of humankind as we march outward into the solar system,” said former NASA Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale who writes a popular blog about space matters.

China is only the third nation (behind Russia and the United States) to have a successful manned space program, having launched its first successful manned space flight in 2003. This first mission only had a single person onboard, and gave the world a new word – ‘taikonaut’ (taikong is the Chinese word for space). The country’s next mission contained two of these taikonauts and took place in 2005. The third and most current manned mission that China has launched was launched in 2008 and held a crew of three.

Yang Liwei became the first of China's Taikonaut when he rocketed into orbit in 2003. Photo Credit: Xinhua

China has steadily, but surely, built and tested capabilities essential for a robust manned space program. Considering that China very ambitious goals for space this would seem a prudent course of action. China has stated publically that they want to launch a space station and send their taikonauts to the moon – neither of which are small feats.

China currently utilizes its Shenzhou spacecraft atop the Long March 2F booster from their Jiuquan facility. However, if China wants to accomplish these goals, they will need a more powerful booster. This has been part of the reason that the U.S. has been hesitant to include China due to concerns about the use of what are known as dual-use technologies (rockets that can launch astronauts can also launch nuclear weapons).

Both China's rocket and spacecraft are derived from Soviet Soyuz designs. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Wang Jianmin

Some have raised concerns about the nation’s human rights track record. It should be noted however that Russia had similar issues before being included in the International Space Station program.

“In the early 1990’s, some at NASA thought having Russian cosmonauts on the Space Shuttle would mean giving away trade secrets to the competition,” said Pat Duggins, author of the book Trailblazing Mars. “It turned out Russian crew capsules saved the International Space Station when the Shuttles were grounded after the Columbia accident in 2003. So, never say never on China, I guess.”

Duggins is not the only space expert who feels that China would make a good companion when mankind once again ventures out past low-Earth-orbit.

“One of the findings of the Augustine Commission was that the international framework that came out of the ISS program is one of the most important. It should be used and expanded upon for use in international beyond-LEO human space exploration,” said Dr. Leroy Chiao a veteran of four launches and a member of the second Augustine Commission. “My personal belief is that countries like China, which is only the third nation able to launch astronauts, should be included. My hope is that the politics will align soon, to allow such collaboration, using the experience that the US has gained in working with Russia to bring it about.”

Not everyone is completely convinced that China will be as valuable an asset as the Russians have proven themselves to be however.

“It is an interesting scenario with respect to the Chinese participation in an international effort in space. The U.S. has made some tremendous strides in terms of historical efforts to bridge the gap with the Russians and the results have been superb,” said Robert Springer a two-time space shuttle veteran. “The work that has resulted in the successful completion of the International Space Station is an outstanding testimony to what can be done when political differences are set aside in the interest of International cooperation. So, there is a good model of how to proceed, driven somewhat by economic realities as well as politics. I am not convinced that the economic and political scenario bodes well for similar results with the Chinese. It is a worthwhile goal to pursue, but I am personally not convinced that a similar outcome will be the result, at least not in the current environment.”

China's journey into space has just begun, but it remains to be seen if they will be going it alone or as part of a partnership. Photo Credit: Xinhua

First Images From Chang’E 2 Released

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China’s space agency released the first images taken by the newest lunar orbiter, Chang’E 2. “The relaying back of the pictures shows that the Chang’e-2 mission is a success,” said Zhang Jiahao, director of the lunar exploration center of the China National Space Administration.

During its expected 6-month mission the orbiter will come within 15km above the surface, with the main mission of looking for potential landing for Chang’E-3, China’s next lunar mission that will send a rover to the Moon’s surface, scheduled for 2013. While all the other images are of Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows), a rough translation of the writing on this top image has something to do with “antarctic,” so its possible this could be a crater near one of the lunar poles.

This 3-D map view of the moon’s Bay of Rainbows was taken by China’s Chang’e 2 lunar probe in October 2010. The mission is China’s second robotic mission to explore the moon. Credit: China Lunar Exploration Program

The data for this 3D image was taken by a the spacecraft’s stereo camera from 18.7 km on Oct. 28, four days after launch. The image has a resolution of 1.3 meters per pixel, more than ten times the resolution of pictures from Chang’E 2’s predecessor, Chang’E 1.

For comparison, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has a resolution of about 1 meter.

Sinus Iridum is considered to be one of the candidates for the 2013 lander.

Chang’E 2 will also test “soft landing” technology for the lander, which might mean that either the spacecraft is carrying an impactor or that the spacecraft itself will be crashed into the lunar surface like Chang’E 1.

This photo, taken by China’s Chang’e 2 lunar probe in October 2010, shows a crater in the moon’s Bay of Rainbows. . Credit: China Lunar Exploration Program
Another Chang'E 2 image. Credit: Credit: China Lunar Exploration Program

Sources: NASA Lunar Science Institute, China National Space Administration

China Launches Second Moon Mission

China successfully launched their second robotic mission, Chang’E-2, to the Moon. A Long March 3C rocket blasted off from Xichang launch center just before 1100 GMT on October 1. The satellite is scheduled to reach the Moon in five days, and so far, all the telemetry shows everything to be working as planned. It will take some time for Chang’E-2 to settle into its 100-km (60-mile) orbit above the lunar surfaces, although the China space agency also said the spacecraft will come as close as 15km above the surface during its mission in order to take high-resolution imagery of potential landing sites for Chang’E-3, China’s next lunar mission that will send a rover to the Moon’s surface, scheduled for 2013.
Continue reading “China Launches Second Moon Mission”