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Shenzhou-3 Proceeds Smoothly Halfway Through Mission

virtually there - looking out the main porthole of SZ-3 - TV grab
by Wei Long
Beijing - Mar 28, 2002
The unmanned test flight of Shenzhou-3 (SZ-3) is proceeding nominally, sid officials at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center (BACCC) in a mission status report issued via the Xinhua News Agency Wednesday.

The third test mission of Shenzhou lifted off aboard a Changzheng-2F (Long March-2F) launcher on Monday (Mar. 25) at 10:15 p.m. Beijing Time (1415 UTC) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) in the northwestern Gansu Province.

BACCC said that "as of 19 hours today (7 p.m. Beijing Time, 1100 UTC), Shenzhou-3 has orbited the Earth 30 times. Judging from the tracking data, flight conditions of the spacecraft is nominal."

"In the next few days BACCC will continue to monitor spacecraft conditions closely. Orbit maintenance will be performed at the appropriate time to prepare for the smooth return of the spacecraft."

SZ-3 is in an orbit 331.3 km x 336.8 km with an inclination of 42.4 deg and a period of 91.2 minutes.

The mission status report did not say the duration of the SZ-3 mission and when the spacecraft will return. However, Wen Wei Po, the pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, today quotes unidentified sources at JSLC as saying that if the mission continues without any problem, SZ-3 will likely stay in space for about five days.

This will place the landing date on Saturday (Mar. 30) at the earliest. These sources believe that the spacecraft will, like the two previous missions, land at the Steppes in Inner Mongolia.

However, in China Space News, the weekly Chinese-language aerospace publication, says in today's edition that the primary mission would last 7 days.

The landing of this mission will likely attract considerable attention, given widespread speculation that an accident might have happened during the landing of SZ-2, due to a total media blackout following the "officially" announced soft landing.

On Tuesday (Mar. 26) Wen Wei Po asked a specialist at JSLC about such speculation. The specialist did not deny the allegation, and declining to add provide any further information on the SZ-2 landing.

Xinhua has released images from SZ-3 along with the mission status report. Cameras on board SZ-3 again transmitted interior images of the spacecraft and views of the Earth through a porthole. These images were displayed on the large screens at the front of BACCC where technicians monitor and operate the mission.

Also shown on the large screens were orbital tracks of SZ-3 on a world map, and data and graphical displays of mission telemetry.

Gu Sheng, a 28-year-old communications engineer at BACCC said that the returned images were part of the test on the audiovisual system.

At times when the large screens showed the sharp returned images, SZ-3 transmitted a female voice recording "yuhangyuans ("astronauts"), please don the spacesuits; take your seats and fasten the seatbelts."

Gu said, "This is a test of the digital TV reception system and the air-to-ground audio system to examine the clarity of the TV imagery and audio."

"The environmental factors in this test are identical to conditions on a manned mission. We have received audio transmissions from the spacecraft cabin to the ground very clearly. The test thus far does not have any problem," added Gu.

The primary objective of the SZ-3 mission is to test systems that would ensure the safety of yuhangyuans ("astronauts"). This includes, for the first time, test firing of the escape system during ascent. Shortly after liftoff the announcement "escape tower separation" was heard over the public broadcast system at JSLC and all control centres.

Like the SZ-2 mission, SZ-3 also carries a variety of experiments which cover disciplines on material science, life science, Earth observations, and optical remote sensing of the terrestrial environment and space environment at the Earth's upper atmosphere.

Altogether there are 44 science payloads on board, with many of them involve scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

These payloads include: medium-resolution imaging spectrograph, cirrus [cloud] sensor, Earth radiation budget sensor, solar ultraviolet monitor, solar constant monitor, atmospheric composition detector, atmospheric density detector, spacecraft Orbital Module optical window module, multi-chamber space crystallization furnace, space protein crystal equipment, a cell bioreactor, a solid matter tracking detector, microgravity gauge, and payload common facility.

The multi-chamber space crystallization furnace, the space protein crystal equipment, and the Orbital Module payload common facility are making a second flight. Flown for the third time are the microgravity gauge, and the Descent Module payload common facility. The additional payloads are making their first trip in space.

After the Descent Module returns to Earth, the Orbital Module will remain in space to conduct experiments for about half a year. The main task is to study the space environment, atmospheric composition and density, and make Earth observations.

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China Launches Third Shenzhou
Beijing - Mar 25, 2002
China's fledgling manned space program launched an unmanned test flight late Monday at 10.15pm local time (1415 GMT), the third in a series of test flights that are expected to result in China's first manned space voyage next year. Shenzhou was launched a top the Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Space Launch Center in northwest Gansu province.