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by Dr Morris Jones for SpaceDaily.com
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jun 03, 2013
The silence has been broken. After an extended period of silence from Chinese authorities, the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft and its rocket have been rolled out of the Vehicle Assembly Building at China's Jiuquan space launch complex.
The rollout of Shenzhou 10 to the launch pad has clarified a lot of uncertainties surrounding China's next astronaut launch. It is the best sign of all that the mission is on track. Furthermore, it helps us to resolve questions of the timing of the launch.
At the time of writing, China has not specified the launch date for Shenzhou 10, but we can make some predictions. Given the time it takes to prepare the rocket for launch after rollout, the most likely launch date for Shenzhou 10 is June 11.
Soon, we can expect the usual flurry of pre-launch preparations, and hopefully we will see more media coverage of the mission.
This analyst had earlier written of the relatively scarce level of reportage on Shenzhou 10 in recent times, which has been even more threadbare than China's usually tight disclosures. Exactly why this happened is still not entirely clear, but the silence could be connected to recent reshuffles in China's political machinery.
The June 11 launch date, if confirmed, will allow Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend ceremonies related to the launch and possibly even witness the launch itself.
Right now, we do not know exactly what he plans to do. Mr Xi will have recently returned from a visit to the USA to meet US President Barack Obama, but it is not clear if spaceflight will be mentioned during this meeting.
In any case, relations between the USA and China on space-related matters have been frosty for years, and this analyst does not expect this to change in the near future.
More information will probably come out soon. Stay tuned.
earlier related report
China has openly reported on most of the preliminary stages that lead up to a launch. But suddenly, they have gone very silent. There has been a curious absence of reportage on the Shenzhou 10 mission in China's state-run media in recent days.
We should have received a few updates on progress with the launch preparations or some soft "background" stories on the space program. China is notoriously stingy with media coverage of its space missions, and we did not expect a torrent of reportage. Still, China could have said a lot more by now.
Is there a serious problem with Shenzhou 10? Probably not. Technically, the space hardware is probably in a very good state. China has plenty of experience in launching Shenzhou missions and has a track record of success. Few analysts had any real worries about the upcoming mission.
The Shenzhou program is an outstanding achievement for China. Only three nations have ever developed the ability to independently launch their own astronauts into orbit.
Right now, only China and Russia have operational systems to do this. The Shenzhou program has attracted the admiration of people inside and outside of China. It is a powerful symbol of China's prosperity and capabilities.
This analyst suspects that China is soft-pedalling media coverage of Shenzhou 10 for timing reasons, and also for political reasons. Analysts had long predicted that Shenzhou 10 could launch on June 7.
This no longer seems to be a likely launch date, judging from the pace of preparations. Alternative launch dates on June 9 and 11 (China time) are now being favoured.
China likes to time its publicity blitz to coincide with the final days before launching a Shenzhou mission. If this policy is still in place, we could be experiencing a delay in publicity due to the timing of the mission. If we wait long enough, China will eventually shine the spotlight on the astronauts, the spacecraft and the launch.
There could be more complex factors adding to the delays. China now has a new set of leaders in power in Beijing. There could be reshuffles across a variety of administrative areas, including the space program and the media.
One theory considered by this analyst is that new lines have been drawn in terms of what is acceptable for public disclosure of any state-run activities.
It's also possible that no specific lines or new policies have been drawn, and media workers are being very cautious to avoid crossing any invisible lines or upsetting their new masters.
The upcoming visit of President Xi Jinping to the USA could also be complicating both the timing of the launch and the pattern of media coverage. China could be timing the launch to wait for Mr Xi's return from the USA, so he can attend pre-launch ceremonies.
It could also be the case that China does not want to draw too much attention to its growing capabilities in spaceflight before Mr Xi's meeting with US President Obama.
Hopefully there will be more publicity very soon. But even when that happens, it will not alter the fact that China has already been more reserved than usual in the lead-up to this mission.
Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst who has covered the Shenzhou program for SpaceDaily since 1999. Email morrisjonesNOSPAMhotmail.com. Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.
China National Space Administration
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
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