by Robert Christy FBIS
London, UK (SPX) Jun 12, 2012
With the June 9 rollout of the Long March launch vehicle from its assembly building, Shenzhou 9 has taken a major step towards orbit. The Shenzhou launch campaign has settled into a routine where the launcher spends 5-7 days on the launch pad before lift-off. As such Shenzhou 9 is going nowhere until Jun 14 at the earliest.
China will only launch when everything, including the weather, is checked out and passed fit for flight.
Chinese space officials are saying only that launch will occur "mid-June". This will be during a mission window when on-orbit solar lighting conditions will be at their optimum.
As yet, there is no information on the names of the crew. A small group of potential astronauts is undergoing final tests before three will be selected. For some time, China has hinted that one of Shenzhou 9's occupants could be a woman.
It isn't particularly startling but it has produced a rash of 'surprised' stories on the web in spite of the fact that a large proportion of the world's scientists and engineers are female.
Shenzhou is set to spend 2-3 days chasing Tiangong before attempting to rendezvous with it under computer control. It has been reported that the crew will take over when the distance is down to 150 metres and guide it to a manually-controlled docking.
Shenzhou's automatic docking ability was proved twice during the unpiloted Shenzhou 8 mission. The second time was under difficult lighting when Shenzhou's cameras and sensors were pointing almost directly at the Sun.
Shenzhou 9's mission is open ended and its duration will depend on how systems perform and how the crew stands up to being in orbit. At the outside, the two craft will remain docked together for ten days before Shenzhou returns to Earth for a landing in Inner Mongolia.
If Shenzhou were to depart for Tiangong 1 on June 14, the launch time will be at 11:31 UTC (19:31 Beijing Time) give or take a couple of minutes.
Because of the way Tiangong's orbit is affected by the Earth's equatorial bulge, every day after June 14 the launch time gets earlier by a little under 28 minutes. By June 22, near the end of the current launch window, it will have drifted back to 07:47 UTC (15:47 in Beijing).
Up to date summaries, including links to appropriate Chinese sources, can be found on this page at the zarya.info web site
China Space at Zarya
China Nation Space Administation
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
China News from SinoDaily.com
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