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Shenzhou-3 On The Pad Awaiting Launch

China will launch two unmanned test missions of Shenzhou this year, including the impending SZ-3 flight. Depending on the outcome of these unmanned test flights the first manned mission could take place as early as next year.
by Wei Long
Beijing - Mar 12, 2002
Senior Chinese officials have confirmed that the Changzheng-2F (Long March-2F) launcher with the Shenzhou-3 (SZ-3, Shenzhou means "Magic Vessel" or "Divine Vessel") spacecraft on board is now standing at a Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) launch pad.

The confirmation came last week here during the Fifth Session of the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC) and the Ninth National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Last Wednesday (Mar. 6) China News Service reported Hu Shixiang, Deputy Minister of the General Armament Department of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), as saying that the CZ-2F launcher and the SZ-3 spacecraft had entered the launch centre in the northwestern Gansu Province. Hu said that liftoff of the unmanned mission was imminent. However, Hu did not provide any further information on the actual launch date.

Meanwhile, PLA Daily reported on Mar. 4 that mission controllers continued to rehearse various aspects of the mission in many simulations at both the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre (BACCC) and the Xi'an Satellite Control Centre (XSCC) in the central Shaanxi Province.

The newspaper wrote that controllers at BACCC had volunteered to give up many of their off-duty hours so they could perform additional testing and checking of all systems. BACCC reports that operation of all facilities and systems are stable, safe and reliable. All prelaunch preparation has been completed and the centre is awaiting the order to carry out its mission duties.

Hu said that the lengthy delay of the third unmanned test flight from last year to this year was due to problems in "product quality". Hu explained: "We are pursuing a success. ... As long as there is a problem, it must be thoroughly resolved. Therefore we don't care whether the launch is a day late or a day early."

According to Hu, SZ-3 has incorporated many technical improvements which greatly enhance the spacecraft's reliability. For example technicians have put in much effort to adopt new technologies in ground control and tracking, and safe emergency escape.

Hu said that China would launch two unmanned test missions of Shenzhou this year, including the impending SZ-3 flight. Depending on the outcome of a few more unmanned test flights to ensure the safety and reliability of the spacecraft, the first manned mission could take place as early as next year.

"The government has shown deep concern on this matter [the first manned mission] and has given generous support with financial resources. All work is progressing orderly and the launch may occur next year at the earliest. But a specific date will depend on test results," added Hu.

On the same day space technology specialist and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Zhuang Fenggan told China News Service, "Our yuhangyuans ("astronauts") have been in training for several years. The scene of space travel that Chinese have yearned for, as depicted in the Dunhuang murals, would hopefully be realized before long."

The 77-year-old Zhuang, who is also the Chairman of Science and Technology Committee of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) and a consultant on advanced technology at China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), remarks that China has placed a very high demand on yuhangyuan training.

Zhuang believes that China should begin to consider what yuhangyuans would do once they reach space. He proposes experiments that would use microgravity and the high vacuum of space to actively exploit and utilize space resources.

"Yuhangyuans not only have to operate the spacecraft but also complete many experiments in space. This is also an important preparation in the realization of manned spaceflight in the current tenth five-year plan," said Zhuang. China has set the goal of launching its first manned space mission in the current five-year economic plan which runs from last year to 2005.

Over the long term, Zhuang said China could build an industrial base in space, such as a solar power generating station, to serve inhabitants on Earth and as a precursor to robotic and manned lunar landing and subsequent development on the Moon.

Zhuang reckons that although China presently has the capability and resources to launch satellites to the Moon, such an exploration project requires large-scale, systematic and detailed designs and planning over a long time.

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Shenzhou-3 Preparation Resume
Beijing - Mar 4, 2002
With the end of the week long nationwide celebration of the Lunar New Year of the Horse, technicians at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) have resumed launch preparation and rehearsals of the Shenzhou-3 launch, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Daily reported on Feb. 26.

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