China Opens 21st Century With Shenzhou-2 Launch
Beijing - Jan. 12, 2001
China has kicked off the new century with the unmanned launch of Shenzhou-2 early Wednesday morning (Jan. 10). The symbolic and successful launch occurred at 1am Beijing Time (Jan. 9 17:00 UTC) for a mission that is expected to last seven days.
According to Chinese press reports there are six mice, 20,000 seeds, 25 different kinds of plants, a small bio specimen, microorganisms, several kinds of crystal growth experiments such protein crystal growth, x- and gamma-ray astronomical instruments and a high-energy particle detectors.
Launched aboard a Changzheng-2F (Long March-2F), on its second outing, Shenzhou-2 lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in the northwestern Gansu Province and through the misfortune of other launches attempts Shenzhou-2 became the first successful launch of the new millennium.
With this mission China resumes testing of its manned spacecraft after almost a 14-month hiatus. The first manned spacecraft, SZ-1, completed a 14-orbit, 21-hour flight on Nov. 20, 1999.
Unlike the SZ-1 mission whose details were only known after the successful landing, Xinhua announced the news of the SZ-2 mission immediately after the launch.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin sent a congratulatory message hailing the successful launch. "... Please send my rousing congratulations and cordial regards to all scientists, cadres, workers, and People's Liberation Army servicemen who participated in the design, construction and launch of the spacecraft."
Russia reacted favorably to the news of the Chinese launch. Sergei Gorbunov, a spokesman for the head of the Rosaviakosmos aviation and space authority told Itar-Tass news agency that Russia welcomed China in making the first steps of its own manned spaceflight development and launches for peaceful purposes.
Gorbunov added that China is following a similar course in manned space exploration as the former Soviet Union.
Similar to the first Shenzhou launch, SZ-2 also lifted off at night and in the winter month. According to an explanation in yesterday's (Jan. 11) Beijing Youth Daily, the choice of a launch window at night was primarily for ease of optical tracking as ground-based tracking cameras could follow the brilliant rocket exhaust much easier at night than during the daytime.
The launch of the first two missions, and possibly other Shenzhou spacecraft in the near future, are futher restricted to the autumn and winter months.
The constraint arises from the complex issues facing China to mount a global tracking operation. China tracks the Shenzhou spacecraft from both domestic and foreign tracking stations as well as the fleet of Yuanwang (YW, Yuanwang means "Long View") tracking ships at sea.
On this mission, other than YW-1 which is stationed at Bo Hai off the north east coast of China, the other three tracking ships are in the southern hemisphere in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
Sea surface conditions in the southern hemisphere are usually calmer in the spring and summer months, which correspond to autumn and winter months in the northern hemisphere, with conditions deteriorate to very poor during the autumn and winter months in the southern hemisphere. Not only is tracking operations from the Yuanwang ships more difficult if not impossible at this time, the safety of the crews and ships also cannot be guaranteed.
In the current mission SZ-2 appears essentially the same as SZ-1. There are three modules: the Propulsion Module which houses systems that control spacecraft's on-orbit movement, the Descent Module where yuhangyuans ("astronauts") will ride during launch and reentry, and the Orbital Module where yuhangyuans conduct experiments with various facilities.
However, the structural systems of SZ-2 incorporate improvements and new and expanded technical capabilities. These include on-orbit operation, environment control and emergency life support. In fact SZ-2 is said to be a flight version of the manned spacecraft as opposed to the test version of SZ-1.
At the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center (BACCC), which is in the NW suburb of the capital, a specialist told China News Service that the SZ-2 mission would last several days, much longer than the mission of SZ-1, however other officials associated with the mission have told Chinese media that the mission will last seven days.
"The successful launch and retrieval of SZ-1 was intended to test the payload capacity of the spacecraft and reentry technologies. SZ-2 will test systems that are related to manned flight so the duration will be longer than the mission of SZ-1, which was less than a day. [The current mission] is only missing real yuhangyuans on board," said the official.
Another official told Science and Technology Daily that the mission would test the environment control and life protection systems, and 13 other subsystems of the spacecraft using flight-rated equipment.
An official with the manned spaceflight project application system told the Shanghai newspaper Liberation Daily: "Under the premise of ensuring the safety and reliability of the spacecraft, we are actively pursuing experiments in space materials and life sciences.
"This will bring our level of spacecraft utilization closer to the international level, and allow the manned spaceflight project to impact the national economy and associated science and technology by increased the power of the nation."
After Shenzhou's successful insertion into orbit, a jubilant JSLC manager Liu Mingshan said, "During on-orbit operation, the main goals would be obtaining data on the life protection system and the dynamical environment of the spacecraft, and conducting experiments on space materials and life sciences.
"When the experiments are completed, the Orbital Module will separate from the Descent and Propulsion Modules, with both entering a reentry orbit. After the two modules separates, the Descent Module will enter the Earth's atmosphere and land at the primary landing site in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region."
The principal institutions involved in the research and development of SZ-2 are the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), which are both part of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Ministry of Information Industry (MII) provide various equipment for science and application research experiments.
The powerful CZ-2F launcher is the product of the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), which is also part of CASC.
According to an unidentified official with the manned space project, the successful launch of SZ-2 is of great importance to China in terms of mastering and achieving breakthroughs in manned spaceflight technologies. Since 1992 China has systematically researched and developed all relevant technologies with its own resources.
The official said that there would be three to four additional unmanned test flights before yuhangyuans go into space. Currently the yuhangyuans are undergoing training according to an established plan.
Subscribe To SpaceDaily Express
Shenzhou Program Enjoys Growing Political Support
by Morris Jones
Sydney - Jan. 12, 2000
After a lengthy delay and a regular series of false starts, China has finally moved ahead with its enigmatic Shenzhou program. At the time of writing, the Shenzhou 2 vehicle is orbiting the Earth, awaiting a return to Earth at an unspecified time. Many questions are being raised about this second vehicle, but after waiting so long for this mission to take place, the most obvious question that could be raised is why China decided to launch now.