by Dr Morris Jones for SpaceDaily.com
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 31, 2013
We are expecting the launch of China's next astronaut mission within two weeks. The rocket and spacecraft for the flight of Shenzhou 10 are at the launch site and are undergoing preparations.
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
China News from SinoDaily.com
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