China is preparing for its first human spaceflight since last June:
China will launch its next manned rocket in the middle of this month, carrying three astronauts to an experimental space module, state media said on Monday, the latest stage of an ambitious plan to build a space station.
The Shenzhou 10 space ship and its rocket had already been moved to the launch area at a remote site in the Gobi desert, the official Xinhua news agency reported….
China is still far from catching up with the established space superpowers, the United States and Russia. The Tiangong 1 is a trial module, not the building block of a space station.
But this summer’s mission will be the latest show of China’s growing prowess in space and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.
It will be China’s fifth manned space mission since 2003 when astronaut Yang Liwei became the country’s first person in orbit.
China was in second place in 2012 in terms of both launches (19) and payloads orbited (30). That record put it just behind Russia and ahead of the United States. One of those launches involved a three-person crew sent to the Tiangong-1 space station.
The following look at Chinese launch activities is excerpted from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s new report, “The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2012.” The excerpt includes a summary of 2012 launch activities, closer looks at the Long March 2 and 3 rockets, and a summary of the Long March 5, 6 and 7 launch vehicles now under development.
China’s surging space program moved into second place in 2012 in terms of both orbital launches and payloads, passing the United States and inching closer to Russia.
China successfully launched 19 rockets last year, placing a total of 30 payloads into orbit, according to an annual report released by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Russia led all nations with 34 payloads on 24 launches, while the United States came in third with 28 payloads on 13 launches. (more…)
A look ahead to the coming year in space finds the introduction of new launch vehicles in the United States and Russia and a third attempt to launch a Russian-Korean rocket from South Korea. Meanwhile, China will send another crew to its orbiting space station and a rover to the moon.
While the Chinese celebrate the launch of a three-member crew to the Tiangong-1 space station, two former chairman of India’s space agency ISRO are looking on with both admiration and regret. As China’s program has moved slowly but steadily forward, India’s plans for human space missions have slipped from around 2016 into the early to mid-2020s.
India’s top space scientists praised China’s maiden mission of manned docking of its space lab even as New Delhi’s own human space flight programme seems to have lost momentum.
“It’s a wonderful thing that has happened,” ex-Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation, U R Rao told PTI here. “Essentially, they are making sure that they are going ahead systematically with manned mission programme”. …
He said India has not started any manned mission programme at all. “We have to have much larger and much more powerful launch vehicle,” Rao said.
China performed its first human docking on Monday:
China’s Shenzhou 9 space capsule — which launched Saturday carrying three astronauts, including the country’s first female spaceflier — linked up automatically with the unmanned Tiangong 1 space lab just after 2 p.m. Monday Beijing time (2 a.m. ET), according to CCTV.
The only other countries to pull off an orbital docking with a manned spacecraft are the United States and then-Soviet Russia, which first did so in 1966 and 1969, respectively.
Shenzhou 9 was to dock with Tiangong 1 twice. The plan called for the first hookup to be conducted in automated mode, following the pattern set last November during an all-robotic docking between Tiangong and an unmanned Shenzhou 8 craft. At some point, the two spacecraft will separate, and the three taikonauts, as China’s astronauts are known, will perform the second docking under manual control.
China launched the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft with three astronauts aboard atop a Long March 2F rocket on Saturday. Commander Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang — the first Chinese woman in space — are headed for a two-week mission to the Tiangong-1 space station. This will be the first human crew to dock with China’s first space station, which was launched last year. The crew will dock with Tiangong-1 on Monday. This is China’s first human launch in nearly four years.
Reports indicate that the launch will take place on Saturday afternoon. The crew will spend two days to reach the Tiangong-1 space station and 10 days on board. China will send its first female astronaut into space on this flight.The space station is about half the size of the Soviet Salyut facilities launched during the 1970s.
Xinhua has an update on China’s human spaceflight program:
China will launch its Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft sometime in mid-June to perform the country’s first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, a spokesperson said here Saturday.
The spacecraft and its carrier rocket, the Long March-2F, were moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Saturday, a spokesperson with the country’s manned space program said….
Three taikonauts aboard China’s Shenzhou 9 spacecraft will dock with the Tiangong-1 space station between June and August, Chinese officials have announced. This will be the first human stay aboard the nation’s first space station, which was launched last year.
The taikonauts will validate rendezvous and docking procedures and conduct experiments aboard the laboratory. Chinese officials have not announced how long the mission will last. A second human is set to follow with Shenzhou 10.
The Chinese government has issued a white paper outlining its space plans for the next five years. Highlights include:
sending the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft to “achieve unmanned or manned rendezvous and docking” with the Tiangong-1 space station;*
launching space laboratories, human spacecraft and space freighters into orbit;
making major breakthroughs in key space station technologies;
conducting studies on a preliminary plan for landing astronauts on the moon;
launching orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return missions to the moon;
developing new launch vehicles, including one capable of putting 25 metric tons of cargo into low Earth orbit;
completing construction of the Hainan space launch site and making it operational; and
strengthening its work on space debris monitoring and mitigation.
* I had previously thought that the next two Shenzhou missions (9 and 10) would have crews, but the white paper indicates that at least one of the flights might be automated. The automated Shenhou-8 docking mission appeared — publicly, at least — to have gone off without a hitch, so I’m not sure why they would need to repeat the flight. Curious.
Excerpts from the white paper follow after the break. I have rearranged the order of the subjects covered to place the most interesting material at the top, but I have not altered any of the text.
China is looking forward to a busy 2012 in space, with 20 launches planned and at least one crew visiting its Tiangong-1 space station.
The nation succeeded in launching 18 rockets in 19 attempts during 2011, surpassing the United States in total launches in a year for the first time. The U.S. launched 18 rockets with 17 successes this year.
It’s only two days after Christmas, but the holiday cheer that usually extends through New Year’s Day seems to have worn off for some pundits. Some are looking back in horror, others ahead with trepidation…
Lunar scientist Paul Spudis says good riddance to the year in space in Annus Horribilis: Space in 2011. So, what went wrong? The space shuttle program ended, the commercial crew effort appears doomed, NASA’s new mission statement lacks any actual missions, the Space Launch System is a bloated mess, the James Webb telescope is sucking the life out of the science budget, and John Marburger passed away.
Gee, that does sound bad. Now, I’m seriously depressed…and I was pretty happy until just now.
Now that China has its Tiangong-1 space station in orbit, the rising space power has a great bargaining chip for concluding cooperative agreements with other nations. This week, China signed a deal with Italy that could see the Italians helping to build future Chinese space stations and flying their astronauts to them.