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. Shenzhou-3 Module Reentry Wraps Up Long-Duration Mission

The Shenzhou module will give China an initial on orbit manned platform to begin learning the difficult business of manned spaceflight
by Wei Long
Beijing - Nov 25, 2002
After nearly 232 days in space, the Shenzhou-3 Orbital Module disintegrated in a fiery reentry on Nov. 12 over the southern hemisphere. The reentry concluded the second long-duration unmanned mission in the Shenzhou program.

According to the Orbital Information Group at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the reentry occurred during the descending portion of the final orbit of Shenzhou-3 (SZ-3, Shenzhou means "Magic Vessel" or "Divine Vessel") at about 0638 UTC (2:38 p.m. Beijing Time).

The reentry point was approximately 22 deg S in latitude and 109 deg E in longitude, a location over the Indian Ocean off western Australia.

The first long-duration unmanned Shenzhou mission was the extended flight of SZ-2. Its Orbital Module stayed in space for 260 days before reentering the Earth on August 24, 2001.

In fact the SZ-3 extended mission finished a month before the reentry.

People's Liberation Army (PLA) Daily reported on Oct. 11 the announcement from the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center (BACCC) that the SZ-3 Orbital Module had successfully completed its extended mission.

BACCC, the main control centre of Shenzhou missions, did not make a similar public announcement for the SZ-2 extended mission. The SZ-3 mission ending statement is a sign that space officials are growing confident with the maturing technologies of the Shenzhou manned space program.

The two long-duration missions have given mission controllers valuable experience in maintaining an orbiting platform for an extended period.

In particular BACCC have achieved a precision of controlling the Shenzhou spacecraft to 100 metres for all three missions.

An unnamed specialist at BACCC explained to Beijing Times on Nov. 13 that a minimum precision of 300 metres would be required according to international convention.

The specialist added that the accomplishment "sufficiently demonstrated that the precision orbit determination technology of China's manned space program has reached a world advanced level."

BACCC said that during the extended mission of SZ-3, controllers had performed orbit maintenance and flight pattern control many times.

Other areas of key technology that BACCC controllers have achieved breakthrough and mastered include spacecraft low-orbit decay pattern research, observation and control condition analysis, Sun and Earth orientation model research, maintenance and control research, meteoroid and debris analysis, propellant optimal distribution analysis, fault diagnosis and contingency management, spacecraft transparent control, high-speed data processing, visualization of monitoring displays, and reentry control and landing forecast.

The formal completion of the SZ-3 mission ends any speculation that the upcoming SZ-4 unmanned test mission may attempt a proximity rendezvous or docking with the SZ-3 Orbital Module.

The SZ-4 mission may be the last unmanned test flight of the human-rated spacecraft. If the mission goes well, space officials will evaluate the possibility of sending China's first yuhangyuan crew on the SZ-5 mission.

Meanwhile preparation for the launch of SZ-4 has been stepped up at the launch site. On Nov. 10 Wen Wei Po in Hong Kong quoted Zhang Qingwei, President of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), as saying that SZ-4 had arrived at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) in the northwestern Gansu Province.

Space officials deny that any firm launch date has been set, despite the news report from China Daily on Nov. 12 that the SZ-4 launch may take place near Jan. 1, 2003.

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