China Says Shenzhou Okay:
Orbital Module Operational
Beijing - Feb 2, 2001
A Chinese space official quelled speculation that the Shenzhou-2 mission did not end successfully. Zhang Xiaodong, a spokesman for China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), told the French news agency AFP that all was well with the SZ-2 landing and the Descent Module was transported back to Beijing.
His words suggest that scientists are busy analyzing the returned experiments, which include experiments in life science and likely those in material science.
While the post-landing news blackout may arouse a sense of lack of closure to the all-important mission, the flipside is that perhaps "no news is good news".
This may be a sign that China is very confident about its spacecraft retrieving technologies and recovery operation, and the landing of SZ-2 is just the end of another space mission.
Meanwhile the Orbital Module is circling the Earth every 92 minutes as it conducts various observations to acquire critical space environment data and material science that will support China's manned space program. After 23 days and 4 hours in space, SZ-2 Orbital Module is in an orbit of 381.7 km x 399.6 km with an inclination of 42.6 deg and a period of 92.4 minutes.
On the Orbital Module is a set of x- and gamma-ray detectors that look for mysterious and energetic gamma-ray bursts that occur throughout the universe, while collecting data on solar weather with an emphsis on high-energy phenomena.
Another set of instruments is said to be examining the environment of low earth orbit, again playing particular attention to radiation levels, and atmospheric composition and density.
In an interview with the China Central Television on Jan. 17, the former Deputy Chief Designer of the Shenzhou application system Du Heng provided some details of the atmospheric experiment.
Du said that the experiment had two primary objectives: to determine the upper atmosphere's environmental conditions, which would help to enhance the margin of safety for yuhangyuans ("astronauts") and the engineering of the Shenzhou spacecraft.
According to Du, engineers and scientists would like to find out how many atoms there are in a cubic centimeter of space and the radiation level at the altitude where SZ-2 is orbiting.
Among the collected data the density of atomic oxygen would be particularly important. Since atomic oxygen is reactive to materials, knowing the atomic oxygen density at the Shenzhou orbital altitude would help engineers select the appropriate spacecraft material that is more resistant to atomic oxygen corrosion.
Mission planners would also use the atmospheric density data to determine a suitable orbiting altitude for future Shenzhou missions.
On SZ-2 sensors are exposed to the space environment through openings on the module. Data is collected, stored on board and transmitted back to the ground as the module makes overpasses Chinese ground stations.
China has previously made the same kind of measurements of the upper atmosphere, but at a lower altitude and over a much shorter time period.
Speaking on China Central Television Du said, "We hope that if they the sensors function nominally and six months worth of data is accumulated, it would be the first time we have so much data on the upper atmosphere."
"This data will be correlated with other data, such as those on solar activities, and other space environment parameters for analysis. ... We'll do many theoretical studies and build a model of the environment.
"Then we'll carry out testing to find out which materials are better under certain conditions and structures," added Du, who has been the first Deputy Chief Designer of the Shenzhou application system since the program's inception in 1992.
The SZ-2 Orbital Module mission may not last the full six months as the harsh space environment could cause a malfunction of the spacecraft's systems and instruments. Du said that the sensors designed for the atmospheric experiment may fail due to radiation from high-energy particles, that the SZ-2 Orbital Module mission is studying.
Asked under what space environmental conditions would yuhangyuans be launched into and if their safety could be guaranteed, Du replied: "I find it a bit difficult to say that their safety can be fully guaranteed. We have no control over solar activities, we can only choose a better period to launch. ... such as during the calmer periods in between the active periods of the Sun."
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Shenzhou-2 Landing Mystery Continues
Hong Kong - Jan. 24, 2001
A week ago Shenzhou-2 landed in central Inner Mongolia and returned with some science experiments. However, the fate of the experiments and the Descent Module remains unknown to anyone outside China's secretive space program.