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Shenzhou Cleared For Launch As Sandstorms Pass

The focus of the Shenzhou-3 flight (SZ-3, Shenzhou means "Magic Vessel" or "Divine Vessel") is to test systems that would ensure the safety of yuhangyuans ("astronauts").
by Wei Long
Beijing - Mar 25, 2002
The third unmanned test mission of Shenzhou will likely be launched this week, the pro-Beijing Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Wei Po reports today (Mar. 25). The newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying that if launch preparation goes well, the launch may take place as early as today.

The focus of the Shenzhou-3 flight (SZ-3, Shenzhou means "Magic Vessel" or "Divine Vessel") is to test systems that would ensure the safety of yuhangyuans ("astronauts").

Last Friday, the same newspaper reported that prelaunch preparations were proceeding despite the inclement conditions from the raging sandstorms that have hit northern China the past week. Sources told the newspaper then that SZ-3 would be launched "within days" from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) in the northwestern Gansu Province.

In today's report the sources said that after months of intense work, technicians had complete ground testing, electrical inspection, and simulations related to the safety of yuhangyuans. Space officials then finalized the entire flight procedures.

The sources also said that in choosing the launch time, officials took into consideration weather and environmental factors at the launch center and downrange.

These sources did not disclose what impact, if any, the two recent sandstorms had at the launch centre.

The latest massive sandstorm, which Chinese officials described as the biggest and longest since 1995, had finally moved eastward towards South Korea, Japan and the western Pacific. In Beijing, the sandstorm reduced daytime visibility to almost nil at times last week, while dumping 30,000 tonnes of sand across the city.

Weather forecasters do not foresee any further sandstorms for the coming week. In northern China sandstorms occur more often from March to May, and usually peak in April.

For the third Shenzhou test mission space officials have only revealed so far that the SZ-3 vehicle will incorporate new and improved subsystems, along with a complex test dummy yuhangyuan that will directly help test Shenzhou's life support systems.

Other tests will include further checking the safety of the reentry system as well as conducting experiments on board and sensing the space environment. However, details of the science experiments are not available.

Like the SZ-2 mission, after the Descent Module separates from the Orbital Module for reentry, the Orbital Module will continue operation in orbit for about six months.

On this mission the Changzheng-2F (Long March-2F) rocket will carry another satellite for a piggyback launch. Thus far there is no information on the nature of the satellite.

Officials at JSLC said that there might be another unmanned test mission, SZ-4, later this year. They acknowledged that the manned space program is trying to keep up the pace with a view to attempting the first manned launch next year.

Yearlong Preparation
Preparation for the SZ-3 launch essentially began soon after SZ-2 completed its seven-day mission in January 2001.

Space officials had intended to launch SZ-3 last year. But problems with design changes to the interior installation of the spacecraft caused the lengthy mission delay. This forced the design team to revert back to the previous interior set-up and delayed the mission to this year.

Wen Wei Po reported last Friday that several months ago, large-size cargoes were seen transported by rail from the town of Jiuquan to the launch centre, which is 100 km to the north. These are now believed to be components relating to the SZ-3 launch.

The newspaper also reported that the tracking vessel Yuanwang-4 (YW-4, Yuanwang means "Long View") set sail to its designated location in recent weeks to support the mission. The other three tracking vessels in the fleet were also on course to their respective positions.

In addition to deploying the tracking fleet at sea, China also relies on ground tracking stations within and outside its territory to follow Shenzhou.

Confirmation of the rollout of the CZ-2F launcher with SZ-3 aboard came at the beginning of the month 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).

Space officials felt that launch preparation were adequate after more than a year of work and it was time to launch the mission for a real test. The officials quoted said that the SZ-3 mission had incorporated many technical improvements that greatly enhance the spacecraft's reliability. For example technicians have put in much effort to adopt new technologies in ground control and tracking, and emergency escape systems. These changes will be tested thoroughly during the mission.

Third Flight Of CZ-2F
This will be the third flight of the CZ-2F launcher, which is designed and developed at the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). The launcher is an improved design of the CZ-2 version with strap-on boosters (CZ-2E), and its reliability is raised to meet the requirements for manned missions.

CZ-2F consists of two core stages, a payload fairing, an escape tower, and four liquid-fuel strap-on boosters. The domestically built escape tower will enable yuhangyuans to bail out of an emergency from 15 minutes before launch to 160 second after liftoff.

The human-rated launcher is the most massive and tallest among all the rockets China has ever built. CZ-2F has 10 subsystems: launcher structure, control system, power equipment, fault monitoring management system, escape system, remote monitoring system, safety external monitoring system, propellant utilization system, auxiliary system, and ground facilities.

To accommodate satellite deployment, CZ-2F preserves the interface and installation location of the payload attitude orientation system.

Launch vehicle specialists explained that the fault monitoring management and escape systems were added to ensure the safety of yuhangyuans.

For additional details see Friday's report.

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Shenzhou To Launch Within Days
Hong Kong (AFP) Mar 22, 2002
China will launch the third test flight of its fledgling space program within days, sending a model of an astronaut into orbit in preparation for a future manned mission, it was reported Friday.

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