[FPSPACE] Shenzhou-8, Tiangong plans
thomsona at flash.net
Tue Oct 11 09:03:12 EDT 2011
China's Shenzhou-8 spacecraft launch on target
13:46, October 11, 2011
After the space laboratory module Tiangong-1 successfully entered orbit, the launch of the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft is imminent. Locking in a remarkable "kiss in space," the two will come together in early November, according to space experts.
"The preparation for launch is proceeding now," Yin Jiangang, an expert tied to China's space program, told the Global Times on Monday, "according to the original plan, Shenzhou-8 will be launched at the end of October or beginning of November, depending on the technical preparations and weather conditions."
The unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft will conduct its first docking test within two days of reaching Tiangong-1 to form a combined spacecraft, according to the Ministry of National Defense.
After flying together for about 12 days, the two space modules will separate and prepare for another docking test.
After the two docking tests, Shenzhou-8 will return to Earth, while Tiangong-1 will remain in long-term orbit to await the next round of docking practice.
In preparation for the docking test, Tiangong-1 was designed to lower its orbit and carry out phase modulations ahead of the launch of its counterpart.
"Tiangong-1 controls the progress of the docking at all times," Zhang Bonan, chief designer of Tiangong-1, said to the Science and Technology Daily, "It keeps sending signals to let its counterpart know where it is and to guide the flight path after the docking."
If the docking test is successful, China will be the third country to have independently developed space docking technology after the US and Russia.
Yin expressed his confidence about the Shenzhou-8 launch, but admitted risks still existed.
He believed that the docking test would "lay a sound foundation for the large-scale construction of China's own space station and space experiments in the future."
"Tiangong-1 once combined will forms a small-scale space station. China's space station, in its true capacity, may be sent up piece-by-piece from the new satellite launch center in Wenchang, Hainan Province after 2014," Yin told the Global Times, "That will be the task for spacecraft like Shenzhou-11 and -12."
According to China's ambitious space plan, Shenzhou-8 through -10 will conduct docking tests with Tiangong-1. Different from the pioneering docking spaceship, Shenzhou-9 and -10 may be manned by an astronaut to complete manual space docking with Tiangong-1. Before 2016, China is planning to send Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 into orbit.
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