Undated photos showing unnamed yuhangyuan in training
According to Wen Wei Po, the pro-Beijing newspaper, unidentified sources in the space program revealed that the second manned capsule would be lighter than the Shenzhou capsule, which was successfully tested in the unmanned maiden flight last November.
Mingpao reports that the capsule, temporarily named Shenzhou 2, will be launched near the time of National Day in October this year.
Like the Shenzhou capsule, the second capsule will have the capacity to accommodate three yuhangyuan ("astronauts").
Rearrangement of various controllers and re-wiring has reduced the weight of Shenzhou 2 by more than 100 kg.
These sources said that redesigning the wiring network resulted in using less wires in both the orbiting and reentry capsules, thus trimming the weight of the vehicles. With the redesign, wires are no longer exposed which significantly reduces the possibility of damage.
The wiring is now attached to surfaces. The approach lowers the centre of gravity of the capsule and helps balancing the vehicle.
According to the sources, rearranging the controllers renders the operation of the capsule easier.
Engineers and technicians are conducting pre-launch tests and fine-tuning the improved technologies at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) in the northwestern Gansu Province. JSLC had been designated as China's manned spaceflight launch centre earlier in the year.
Sources also said that training of yuhangyuan went smoothly. Yuhangyuan had been drilled in safety courses on exposure to electromagnetic radiation, meteor showers and weightless conditions.
Other departments involved in the manned space project, codenamed Project 921, have recently set up China's first large-scale space environment simulation laboratory. The facility would test the manned capsule in the simulated conditions of space, exposing the capsule to high vacuum and thermal cycles.
Research and development of spacesuit and space food is also underway separately.
Two weeks ago Mingpao reported that the first weightlessness simulator in China recently passed the acceptance inspection.
Designed and built jointly by the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation and the Hubei National Defence Education and Military Simulation Centre, the simulator measures 15 m in diameter and 21 m in height.
A large fan generates wind speed of 120 to 150 km/h to create levitation. Yuhangyuan then don special clothing before being blown in the simulator 3 to 5 m above ground to simulate weightlessness.
Authorization to proceed with the 921-2 space station came in February 1999, with the first design review in May. A vacuum chamber with a diameter of 7 meters and a height of 12 meters had already been built to test the station. First launch may be expected no earlier than 2002, with a slow rate of assembly of the space station thereafter. Image copyright Mark Wade.
The Chinese Academy of Engineering held a "Frontiers of Engineering Technology" meeting which was well attended by both academics and industry. During the meeting, thirteen members of the Academy presented oral and written reports on more than ten topics to some 500 people.