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Shenzhou-5 Launcher Ready For Transfer To Jiuquan Launch Site

Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) held a rally involving the assembly team of CZ-2F on June 10 in Beijing. (Photo: China Space News)
by Hou Yi
Hong Kong - Aug 11, 2003
The Changzheng-2F (Long March-2F) launcher that will deliver the Shenzhou-5 spacecraft into orbit will likely be ready to leave for the launch center within the last ten days of this month, local newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported on Sunday (Aug. 3).

According to sources at the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), which is the manufacturer of CZ-2F in Beijing, a team of technicians would accompany the shipment of the launcher to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) in the northwestern Gansu Province.

Two days earlier (Aug. 1) the newspaper also reported that both the SZ-5 spacecraft and the CZ-2F launcher had been undergoing rigorous reexamination ahead of their imminent departure to the launch site.

The examination covered all aspects of the vehicles, including areas of technology that had already reached maturity in the first Shenzhou flight.

Unidentified officials at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) said that in order to ensure a perfectly safe flight for the historic manned mission, processing work on other Changzheng rockets for missions later this year was stopped so that all resources would be devoted to test both SZ-5 and CZ-2F.

This is the first time that CASC and CALT add the rechecking of the Shenzhou spacecraft and its launcher prior to their delivery to the launch center.

The forthcoming transfer of the launcher to JSLC signifies that preparation of the SZ-5 mission is about to enter its final phase.

The report on Sunday in Ta Kung Pao also cited information from unnamed space officials that the launch window of SZ-5 might be around 6 a.m. Beijing Time (10pm UTC on previous day).

Two weeks ago Wen Wei Po, another newspaper in Hong Kong, reported that the launch of SZ-5 could happen within 100 days from now.

Space officials told Wen Wei Po back then that the launch of SZ-5 would occur in daylight.

All four previous launches of unmanned Shenzhou test missions took place at night since the bright rocket plume made optical tracking easier.

One of the main reasons for a day launch of SZ-5, according to the space officials, is that the warmer daytime temperature would improve the working conditions for ground personnel and thereby "further adequately guarantee the safety of the yuhangyuan ('astronaut')".

A daytime launch would also greatly improve the operation in locating and rescuing the mission crew should an emergency develop during launch.

However, the latest news of a launch in the pre-sunrise part of the day seems to negate the idea of working in a warmer environment for the final hours of the launch countdown.

Furthermore as there is only a single time zone for the entire country, the amount of daylight available at 6 a.m. at JSLC is less than that at the same time in areas further east.

In fact the sky would not even reach morning twilight at 6 a.m. at JSLC in late October, the suggested timeframe of the SZ-5 launch.

But space officials explained to Ta Kung Pao that many factors would go into considering the launch window of SZ-5. Besides the environmental element, a factor that would have to be taken into account is the amount of solar illumination that would be available to the solar arrays on Shenzhou once the spacecraft reaches orbit.

These space officials felt that a launch near 6 a.m. would be "the most favourable" in this respect.


Chinese space officials have remained silent about the crew size and details of the mission, such as its duration and orbital altitude.

Wen Wei Po reported two weeks ago that space officials had determined which yuhangyuan would pilot SZ-5. But there was no mention of the crew size of the mission.

As far back as Feb. 15, the Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese manned spaceflight application system Zhang Houying had said in a public lecture in Beijing that a simpler and shorter duration mission would be more appropriate for SZ-5.

"As to how many persons [on SZ-5], presently is not the time to announce; but definitely the simpler the better. The number of days that the yuhangyuan crew stays in space will not be long either and would also be better to be simpler," said Zhang.

He added that there would be three seats on SZ-5 but he was certain that there would not be three yuhangyuans on the mission.

Other unidentified Chinese space specialists had said in an interview with Wen Wei Po on Feb. 25 that they speculated SZ-5 would involve only a single yuhangyuan on a one-day mission.

Among the four unmanned test missions of Shenzhou, only the inaugural flight ended within 24 hours. After completing fourteen orbits SZ-1 returned successfully to the designated landing site in Inner Mongolia on Nov. 20, 1999; twenty-one hours after its liftoff.

Zhang also said in the public lecture that SZ-5 would not carry any science experiment, other than all the necessary instruments that would be required for the safe operation of the spacecraft.

He explained that additional science equipment could interfere with the activities of the yuhangyuan in the relatively tight quarters of the Shenzhou capsule.

According to Zhang there would be only a space of 2.5 meters long and 2.2 meters wide available to the yuhangyuan to live and work inside the capsule.

But Zhang revealed that a science payload, a CCD camera, would be mounted to the exterior of SZ-5. "The externally mounted camera is called a CCD transmission camera, with a ground resolution of 1.6 meter. Its main use will be in military reconnaissance," Zhang told the audience of more than 200 at the lecture.

"Other than that, the objective of SZ-5 is to guarantee the safe launch and return of the yuhangyuan."

The resolution of the SZ-5 external CCD camera, interestingly, is very similar to the 1.8-meter imaging resolution of the Israeli remote sensing satellite EROS-A1.

During the lecture Zhang displayed slides and computer animations to illustrate the Shenzhou spacecraft and its operation. One animation showed the overall configuration of SZ-5, which would be mostly identical to SZ-4 with the exception of two areas. The forward end of SZ-5 would be cylindrical in shape instead of the hemispheric shape on SZ-4, and a docking unit for a future orbiting spacelab would be installed on SZ-5.

Zhang said that the basic mission operation of SZ-5 would be the same as on SZ-4. His comment suggested that SZ-5 might settle in an operational circular orbit of 343 km, the orbital altitude of SZ-4.

He said that SZ-5 would blast off from JSLC. A network of 12 tracking stations, including the fleet of four Yuanwang (YW) tracking vessels, would follow the mission closely.

Tracking from land will be the duty of the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center (BACCC), the Xi'an Satellite Control Centre (XSCC) in Shaanxi Province, and the tracking stations in Weinan (Shaanxi Province), Qingdao (Shandong Province), Xiamen (Fujian Province), Kashi (Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region), Karachi (Pakistan), and Swakopmund (Namibia).

The four Yuanwang tracking vessels will station at the Sea of Japan (YW-1), area off the southern tip of South America (YW-2), Atlantic Ocean (YW-3) and Indian Ocean off Australia (YW-4) respectively.

Like the previous four Shenzhou missions, YW-3 will have the critical role of issuing the reentry command to SZ-5 for its return to Earth.

The Descent Module of SZ-5 would aim to touch down at its primary landing site in Gobi Desert, near the town of Bawang Qi in Nei Mongol (Inner Mongolia) Autonomous Region. The backup landing site is at JSLC.

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China Begins Hundred-Day March To Shenzhou-5 Flight
Beijing - Jul 22, 2003
The much-anticipated historic launch of Shenzhou-5 (SZ-5), the first manned mission in the Chinese space program, may only be a hundred days away, Wen Wei Po in Hong Kong reported yesterday (July 21). Unnamed sources told the newspaper that the launch could come in about a hundred days "in the timeframe of autumn before [the onset of] winter." The sources told Wen Wei Po that space officials had determined which yuhangyuan ("astronaut") would pilot the mission. However, they did not disclose the identity of the first crew or the number that would ride on SZ-5.

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