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


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

Astrophoto: Tiangong 1 by Tavi Greiner

Astrophoto: Tiangong 1 by Tavi Greiner

Tavi Greiner of North Carolina captured the pass of the recently-launched Chinese Space Station, Tiangong 1 on October 4, 2011. The spacecraft passed between Cygnus and Cassiopeia and right through Lacerta at an estimated -0.4 magnitude.

Tiangong 1, the first Chinese space laboratory module, was launched on September 29, 2011 by China National Space Administration. The Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 spacecraft are expected to visit it during its 2-year operational lifetime.

Tavi took this picture with a Canon XTi/400D, EFS 18-55mm at 35mm, f/4.5, ISO-800, 30secs.

Check out Tavi’s Flickr page for more astrophotos.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group, post in our Forum or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

China’s Shenzhou-8 Mission Poised For Launch


What’s new in space flight? With only days to go, China is ready to launch an unmanned spacecraft that will attempt to dock with an experimental space station module – Tiangong 1. The Shenzhou 8 mission is the latest step in what will be a decade-long effort to place a manned permanent space station in orbit.

The official Xinhua News Agency announced the craft is ready to embark on a series of maneuvers to connect with the Tiangong 1 module. The orbiting craft was launched in the latter half of September and continuing to perform as expected. The unmanned craft and its modified Long March-2F launch rocket were transferred via a 20-meter-wide railway early Wednesday. Here they are poised to go at the launch pad located at Jiuquan space base on the edge of the Gobi desert in northern China. The launch pad is located a scant 1,500 meters away from the assembling and testing center and it took nearly two hours to complete the transfer.

“Technicians completed testing on the assembling of Shenzhou-8 and the rocket after they were delivered to the launch center at the end of August.” said Lu Jinrong, the launch center’s chief engineer. “In the next few days, the launch center will continue testing the spacecraft and the rocket, and inject propellent before the final launch in early November.”

According to spokeswoman Wu Ping: “The first space docking for China will be conducted when the Tiangong-1 drops from a 350-kilometer-high orbit to a 343-kilometer-high orbit to rendezvous with the Shenzhou-8. The Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8 will fly for about 12 days after the first docking, and will conduct another docking test at an appropriate time in flight, Wu said.0 After the two docking tests, the Shenzhou-8 will return to Earth’s surface and the Tiangong-1 will rise to its original orbit to wait for the next docking test.”

Rock on, China!

Original Story Source: Yahoo News.

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.”


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


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

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