China Conducts Series Of In Orbit Experiments
Beijing - Jan 16, 2001
Shenzhou-2 (SZ-2) mission was operating without a glitch, Xinhua News Agency announced on Saturday (Jan. 13) in the first mission status report.
After completing 60 orbits as of Saturday, Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre (BACCC) said that the mission was running smoothly and science experiments began to collect data.
With continuous tracking and control support from the Xi'an Satellite Control Centre (XSCC) in the central Shaanxi Province and the fleet of four Yuanwang tracking vessels at sea, BACCC successfully commanded SZ-2 to deploy its solar arrays and executed hundreds of manoeuvers to maintain attitude.
On the 14th orbit, which corresponds to approximately 21 hours after launch, SZ-2 fired its manoeuvering engines to circularize its orbit from its initial elliptical path.
Then in the evening of Jan. 12, which was Flight Day 3 of the mission, SZ-2 fired its manoeuvering engines for the second time to maintain a proper orbit and attitude for the Descent Module.
After five days and five and a half hours in space, SZ-2 was in an orbit of 329.9 x 339.4 km with an inclination of 42.6 deg and a period of 91.2 minutes.
In addition to mainly testing the environment control and life protection systems, 13 other subsystems, and the dynamics of the spacecraft, SZ-2 is an orbiting laboratory.
The SZ-2 mission is expected to last seven days, as confirmed by Dr. Liu Yongding who is a principle investigator of the life sciences experiments.
BACCC also said that on-board experiments began their operation. However, the control centre did not release any information on the status of these experiments.
The experiments cover the disciplines of materials, life sciences, astrophysics, space environment physics, and microgravity sciences. Curiously Xinhua said that an experiment was on audio transmission without providing any further details.
China Space News, a major Chinese-language aerospace publication in China, reveals some details of the science investigation on SZ-2 in the Jan. 11 edition. According to the publication, there are 64 science instruments aboard with 15 installed in the Descent Module, 12 in the Orbital Module and 37 supplementary instruments.
In the area of material sciences, there are furnaces and chambers for crystal growth experiments.
In life sciences experiments, there are facilities for growing protein crystals as well as controlled environment growth chambers for live biological investigation. Twenty-five different biological specimens of microorganisms, cells and cellular structures from vertebrates and invertebrates, plants, and aquatic and terrestrial organisms ride on SZ-2. Among the specimens are six live mice, fruit flies and 20,000 seeds.
The astrophysics experiments use soft and hard x-ray and gamma ray instruments to observe the mysterious gamma ray bursters and solar energetic events such as flares. There are also high-energy particle detectors to study energetic particles from the Sun and their effects on the near-Earth space environment.
Over 50 science institutions and universities participated in the collection of experiments. Many of these institutions are part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
Scientists involved in these experiment had spent many years designing and developing the instruments and experiment procedures. The successful launch of SZ-2 brought delight to these scientists who finally saw their work going to space and began operation.
Results of some of the experiments will be known soon after landing, while others may take further investigation to reach conclusions. China Space News said that some experiments would take another six months of observations before ending the scientific investigation.
This suggests that once the Orbital Module separates from the other two modules, it will remain in orbit for at least six months to allow the unspecified experiments, which are likely to be the astrophysics and space environment experiments, to collect more data.
The extended operation of the Orbital Module is an important aspect in the Chinese manned space project. China has announced on various occasions that it would establish its own orbiting laboratory and then a space station in the next two decades.
In a technical report made public last June 8, it spelled out the three phases of building an orbiting laboratory and a space station.
The first phase is launching the manned spacecraft in unmanned and manned flights, delivering yuhangyuans ("astronauts") to near-Earth orbit and returning them to Earth safely. While in orbit yuhangyuans would conduct Earth observations and space experiments.
The focus of the second phase is completing spacewalking activities, docking and transferring tests, and launching a space laboratory which would only be man-tended on a short-term basis and left in an automated mode on the long term.
The third phase is constructing a larger space station which would be man-tended permanently.
Chinese space officials recognize that the present SZ-2 mission is a crucial first step in the long process.
An official with the SZ-2 technology application system said: "This 'Vessel of Hope' [a reference to Shenzhou-2, which Xinhua translates as "Magic Vessel"] sets the stage for the proud scientists to actively participate in the space program."
Another specialist from CAS said confidently that scientists would be flown in future manned space missions. "Even though there are no payload specialists among the yuhangyuans in the infant Chinese space program, we believe that as the program progresses the silhouettes of payload specialists will appear among future yuhangyuans.
"All the current activities are a prelude to future participation of payload specialists in the large scale space experimentation and application," said the CAS specialist.
Space officials also believe that the experience gained in the SZ-2 mission will allow in-depth and larger scale space activities in the future, and pave the way for industrialization and commercialization of space products.
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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.