Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Shenzhou 10 Launch Attempts China's Longest Mission Yet

Shenzhou 10 on Long March 2F rocket roars into a perfect sky. All images credit: CMSEC and Xinhua.

China has set herself on an ambitious schedule of missions. On this, only the fifth manned space mission, Chinese astronauts (sometimes called taikonauts) are attempting a 15-day mission to the Tiangong space module in orbit around the Earth. Unlike ISS, the Tiangong 1 is not permanently manned. It is being used as a temporary way station on a scheduled path for China to build their own space station by the year 2020. The first manned mission to Tiangong 1 was last year. Each mission brings China closer to their stated goals, eventually to reach the Moon.

Artist concept of docking Shenzhou10 (right) with Tiangong 1 (left). Notice the similarity between Shenzhou 10 and a Russian Soyuz space craft.

Overview of Soyuz spacecraft. Although the orbital module has a different shape than the Soyuz's, the Chinese craft was developed from the Russian design. Credit:

China has gone from first manned launch to second docking with a space station in just five missions. Their planning has been careful and ambitious. But it shows that countries entering the manned space age on their own no longer need to go through the long and difficult process of scientific progression on their own. America and Russia paid for that discovery during the last 50 years. China just showed other countries that you can buy the technology (as they did from Russia, although some advanced navigational technology was taken from American sources) and develop your own space program. Soon, once the US commercial companies like SpaceX and Boeing complete their own manned rockets to the ISS, a country will merely need to buy a complete rocket and capsule set. Currently, other countries will still need to develop their own space infrastructure (launch bases) of their own of use a previous existing one. However, I believe that we will soon see space construction companies contract out to build launch facilities for other countries.

Shenzhou 10 astronaut (l-r): Wang Yaping, Zhang Xiaoguang, and Nie Haisheng. 

The Shenzhou 10 mission improves upon the last visit to the station. In addition to bringing supplies, the crew will install a new waste processing facility (think about that- no doubt a welcome addition), the crew will enjoy a greater variety of food for their meals, and an educational lesson will be televised to the students of China. They will practice docking maneuvers, and generally set the stage for the next Chinese manned flight.

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