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by Dr Morris Jones for SpaceDaily.com
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 22, 2013
If estimates are right, we are probably less than three weeks away from the launch of Shenzhou 10, China's next astronaut mission. Preparations for this launch seem to be going well, judging by official statements published in China's state media.
The Shenzhou spacecraft and its Long March 2F rocket are both at the launch site. Electrical checks on the spacecraft have been conducted. Things seem to be moving at a steady pace, and there are no signs of any problems that would impede the launch.
The anticipation for this launch is strong, but at the present, it's also slightly frustrating. We would love to get more news and more confirmation of the impending launch, but solid facts are only emerging at a trickle.
Sometimes no news is good news. Preparations at this stage in the launch process are somewhat routine and boring. The spacecraft and rocket must be integrated, checked, fuelled and checked again. The less excitement we find now, the better the odds of a successful mission.
China could possibly spice up its typically mundane media coverage of the flight with some human-interest stories or trivia, but so far, the style of reportage is very technical and lean. Outside of China's own media outlets and the aerospace media, there seems to be little coverage of Shenzhou 10.
This style of media coverage has become as familiar to Shenzhou watchers as the sequence of events leading up to a launch. It's partially a product of China's somewhat arcane policies of protecting "state secrets", a label which is somewhat ill-defined, and can apply to just about anything that China's leaders don't want to discuss.
It's also a reminder that in China, as elsewhere in the world, space isn't a major focus for the general media or the general public.
We are probably on the brink of a new wave of publicity for the mission, which will probably swing into action in the days leading up to the flight. When this happens, we can probably expect a smattering of new information, and a re-hash of a lot of existing knowledge of the flight.
Analysts have been speculating on everything from the names of the astronauts to the length of the mission. Some of these educated guesses are based on technical issues, others are based on organisational factors. It will be interesting to compare these guesses to the truth, but right now all we can do is speculate on these points.
For the moment, spacewatchers are in a sort of "countdown hold" as they wait for new tidbits of information and the eventual rollout of the Long March 2F rocket to the launchpad. This will be the next big step in preparing this mission for flight. When that happens, the pace will quicken in the days to follow.
Dr Morris Jones has covered the Shenzhou program since 1999 for SpaceDaily.com. Email morrisjonesNOSPAMhotmail.com Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.
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