Shenzhou-8 lands after China’s 1st Space Docking propelling Ambitious Human Spaceflight Agenda

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China’s historic first docking mission in space ended in a complete success today (Nov. 17) following the safe landing of the unmanned Shenzhou-8 in Inner Mongolia. Today’s landing will robustly propel China’s space program forward and sets the stage for an ambitious agenda of human spaceflight missions in 2012 to the Tiangong-1 Space Lab and eventually to a hefty 100 ton Earth orbiting Space Station to be assembled by 2020.

Shenzhou-8 was launched to low Earth orbit on Nov. 1 atop a Long March 2F booster from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert and successfully conducted China’s first ever rendezvous and docking mission in space with the nation’s Tiangong-1 Space Lab module on Nov. 3 while orbiting some 343 kilometers in altitude above Earth.

Gen. Chang Wanquan, the Commander in Chief of China’s human spaceflight program said, “The Shenzhou-8 capsule has safely returned to the main landing site at Inner Mongolia and the Tiangong-1/Shenzhou-8 rendezvous and docking mission has achieved full success!”

The re-entry capsule of Shenzhou-8 spacecraft after landing in Inner Mongolia on Nov. 17,2011.

Chang leads the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) Project, the nation’s human spaceflight program. He is the Commanding Officer of the Tiangong-1/Shenzhou-8 Rendezvous and Docking Mission Headquarters, and director of the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) General Armaments Department. The People Liberation Army directs China’s human spaceflight program.

Shenzhou-8 landed today at 7:30 pm. Beijing time in central Asia after flying nearly 17 days in earth orbit. Recovery crews reached the capsule within a few minutes of the parachute assisted touchdown.

Most of the flight was spent linked up to the Tiangong-1 Space Lab module – China’s first prototype space station.

Graphic shows the procedure of rendezvous and docking of Shenzhou-8 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 space lab module. Credit: Xinhua/Lu Zhe

After 12 days of joint orbital operations, Shenzhou-8 carried out a 2nd docking test to enable Chinese space engineers and mission controllers to gain further practice and experience in mastering the complex techniques involved in rendezvous and docking in space.

Shenzhou-8 disengaged from Tiangong-1 on Nov. 14, backed off to a distance of 140 meters (460 ft) and then carried out a re-docking about 30 minutes later. Controllers at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center monitored systems as Shenzhou-8 automatically re-approached Tiangong-1 for the second link up.

The main purpose of the second docking test was to confirm the performance of the rendezvous and docking procedures and hardware on Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 under conditions of the glare of sunlight which are different compared to nighttime conditions of the first docking attempt.

Although the Shenzhou-8 flew unmanned during this flight, the capsule was fully human rated – even food and water are stored on board to simulate the presence of a human crew.

Today’s success sets the stage for possibly two Chinese manned missions to follow in 2012, namely Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10.

Each Shenzhou can carry two or three astronauts. One of the missions is highly likely to include the first female Chinese astronaut.

China's unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 landed by parachute in north China Thursday evening, Nov. 17

Read Ken’s features about Shenzhou-8 & Tiangong-1
China completes 2nd Docking to Space Lab and sets Path to Manned flights in 2012
China Technology Surges Forward with Spectacular First Docking in Space
China launches Shenzhou-8 bound for Historic 1st Docking in Space
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

China completes 2nd Docking to Space Lab and sets Path to Manned flights in 2012

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Chinese space prowess took another major leap forward today (Nov. 14) when the unmanned Shenzhou-8 capsule successfully re-docked with China’s Tiangong-1 space lab while speeding through space and orbiting some 343 km above Earth. Today’s events pave the way for China to rapidly ramp up their human space program and loft up to two manned flights to the space lab module in 2012.

The re-docking marked only the 2nd time that China had accomplished a successful space docking, a critical technical milestone that opens the door to China’s real ambition of assembling a 100 ton operational Space Station in low Earth orbit by 2020 – about the time when the ISS might be decommissioned.

China made space history on Nov. 3 by becoming only the 3rd country on Earth – after the US and the Russia – to accomplish a space link up when Shenzhou- 8 and Tiangong-1 rendezvoused and docked in earth orbit.

The graphics shows the procedure of the second docking between Shenzhou-8 spacecraft and Tiangong-1 space lab module on Nov. 14, 2011. Credit: Xinhua/Lu Zhe

Shenzhou-8 was launched to orbit on Nov. 1 atop a Long March 2F booster rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in northwest China. The two Chinese built spacecraft have been joined together for 12 days.

China’s space re-docking exercise today came just hours after Russia successfully launched their Soyuz capsule with two Russians and one American bound for the ISS.

Views of Shenzhou-8 spacecraft docking with the space lab module Tiangong-1 for the second time on Nov. 14, 2011. Credit: CCTV/Beijing Aerospace Control Center

Today’s goal was to give Chinese engineers more practice and confidence in mastering the complex maneuvers required for rendezvous and docking two vehicles in space. It was carried out in daylight conditions as opposed to the nighttime conditions for the initial docking to expand the testing envelope under different scenarios.

Shenzhou-8 first disengaged from the prototype space station at about 6:37 a.m. EST and then withdrew to a distance of about 140 meters (460 ft). About 30 minutes later, mission controllers at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center monitored Shenzhou-8 as it automatically approached Tiangong-1 and completed the second docking – or “Space Kiss” as the Chinese media fondly say – at about 6:53 a.m. EST.

Photo taken on Nov. 14, 2011 show the live video of the outside view of Shenzhou-8 on a giant screen in the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center, in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 14, 2011. China's Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft successfully re-docked with the Tiangong-1, a module of the country's planned space lab on Monday. Credit: Xinhua/Wang Jianmin

The combined Shenzhou-8/Tiangong-1 orbiting complex is some 20 meter in length and weighs about 16 tons. Each vehicle weighs some 8 tons. Tiangong-1 is 10.4 m in length and 3.3. m in diameter. Shenzhou-8 is 9.2 m in length

Shenzhou is China’s manned space capsule but flew this flight with no humans aboard because Chinese space officials felt it was safer and prudent and did not want to expose astronauts to excessive risk during the unprecedented docking attempts.

Following today’s complete success, the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) Project is pushing ahead with plans to launch up to two manned missions to Tiangong-1 in 2012 – namely Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 which are already under construction.

Both 2012 missions would be short duration flights of a few days or weeks since the Tiangong-1 module is a prototype space station module and not outfitted for long duration flights.

CMSE is evaluating a pool of Chinese astronauts already in training – including two women – for the two flights. Both women candidates are married and about 30 years of age but have not been publically identified.

It seems highly likely that one of the Shenzhou missions will include the first female Chinese astronaut.

So far China has launched six astronauts on three manned Shenzhou capsules between 2003 and 2008.

The docking mechanism on Shenzhou-8 was developed and manufactured in China, says Wu Ping, spokeswoman for the CMSE.

In two days, Shenzhou-8 is due to undock from Tiangong-1 for the final time and initiate the fiery re-entry to Earth on Nov. 17. The descent capsule will land by parachute.

These historic feats prove that China’s manufacturing and technological capabilities are surging forward and rapidly matching the Western powers and Japan in a broad swath of scientific and technical fields.

Since the forced retirement of NASA’s functioning space shuttle orbiters, only China and Russia can launch people into space.


Video animation caption: Chinese spacecraft to ‘kiss’ in space. Credit: NMANewsDirect

Read Ken’s features about Shenzhou-8 & Tiangong-1
China Technology Surges Forward with Spectacular First Docking in Space
China launches Shenzhou-8 bound for Historic 1st Docking in Space
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

China Technology Surges Forward with Spectacular First Docking in Space

Video Caption: Live Video of Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 docking in Earth orbit. Photos below. Credit: CCTV commentary/CMSE

China’s technological capabilities took a major surge forward with the successful docking in space today for the first time ever of two Chinese built and launched spaceships – orbiting some 343 kilometers in the heavens above at 1:37 a.m. Beijing time Nov. 3(1:37 p.m. EDT, Nov. 2). China’s goal is to build a fully operational space station in Earth orbit by 2020 – about the time when the ISS may be retired.

Today’s space spectacular joining together the Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft and the Tiangong-1 prototype space station was an historic feat for China, which now becomes only the 3rd country to accomplish a rendezvous and docking of spacecraft in Earth orbit.

Shenzhou is China’s manned spaceflight capsule but is flying without a crew for this particular test flight. The prowess demonstrated with this triumph paves the way for further manned Shenzhou’s launches soon.
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The remarkable space milestone follows in the footsteps of what the United States and Russia accomplished decades ago but this was carried out with 21st century science, technology and manufacturing abilities developed by China during the nation’s rapid rise over the past few decades to become the world’s 2nd most powerful economy.

Schematic of Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 docking in Earth orbit. Credit: CMSE

Shenzhou 8 has been chasing Tiangong-1 in orbit for two days since it was launched on Nov. 1 atop a Long March 2F booster rocket from the Gobi desert in northwest China.

The Commander-in-chief of China´s manned space program Gen. Chang Wanquan, announced “China’s first rendezvous and docking in space joining together the spacecraft Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 space lab module was a complete success.” Chang leads the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) Project and pronounced the achievement at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a congratulatory message from the G-20 summit in Cannes, France. “I am very pleased to hear the news and I send congratulations to all who made this possible. This will push China’s manned space program forward.”

Graphic shows the procedure of Shenzhou-8 spacecraft docking with Tiangong-1 space lab module on Nov. 3, 2011. (Xinhua/Lu Zhe)

The landmark rendezvous and docking was carried live by state run CCTV for all the world to watch. The impressive 2 hour long TV broadcast showed simultaneous and breathtaking camera videos from both the unpiloted Shenzhou-8 capsule and the Tiangong-1 space station module as they viewed one another in the cameras field of view and slowly approached together with the lovely Earth as a backdrop.

Mission controllers carefully monitored all spacecraft systems on both Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 as they sped closer at about 20 cm/sec and stopped at several parking points along the way (400 m, 140 m, 30 m) to confirm everything was nominal.

Chinese engineers and on board systems precisely guided the two spaceships and watched for any deviations. In case of any failures they had the capability to radio the vehicles to separate. But no deviations occurred and the autonomous docking proceeded to completion.

The two vehicles will remain docked for 12 days, then unhook and back off about 150 meters and then conduct another practice docking. The second practice docking is being done to gain more expertise and confidence and will be carried out under different conditions and in daylight.

The combined Shenzhou-8/Tiangong-1 orbiting complex weighs about 16 tons, some 8 tons each. Tiangong-1 is 10.4 m in length and 3.3. m in diameter. Shenzhou 8 is 9.2 m in length.

China plans two crewed flights to Tiangong-1 starting in 2012. The multi-person crews aboard Shenzhou 9 & Shenzhou 10 are almost certain to include China’s first female astronaut. The astronauts would float into Tiangong 1 from their Shenzhou capsules and remain on board for a few days or weeks. They will check out the spacecraft systems and conduct medical, space science and technology tests and experiments.

Meanwhile, since the premature retirement of the space shuttle with no successor in place, the US has absolutely no capability to launch astronauts to earth orbit. Therefore the ISS is totally reliant on Russian Soyuz rockets and capsules. US astronauts must hitch a ride to space with the Russians.

The US Senate just passed a NASA budget for 2012 that cuts NASA funding and will delay a replacement manned vehicle even further, likely into 2017. The US House seeks even deeper NASA budget cuts.

Thus China surges powerfully forward in space and science while the US political establishment has directed NASA to delay and retrench and layoff still more workers.

China's unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 blasted off at 5:58 a.m. Beijing Time Nov 1 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern desert area. Credit: CMSE

Read Ken’s related features about China’s Shenzhou-8, Tiangong-1 and Yinghou-1
China launches Shenzhou-8 bound for Historic 1st Docking in Space
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

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

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 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