. 24/7 Space News .
Shenzhou For Two

illustration only
by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jul 13, 2005
As we watch the Space Shuttle return to flight after a long hiatus, it's worth considering the return to flight of another human spaceflight program. Shenzhou 6 is expected to blast off in September, carrying China's next astronauts.

It will be roughly two years since China made her debut as a human spaceflight power, a gap that's not dissimilar to the grounding of NASA's shuttle fleet. But the overall course of the two programs is diverging greatly. NASA is preparing to gradually phase out its large, winged "space truck" in favour of a new set of spacecraft and missions, while China is presumably hoping to fly Shenzhou for several years to come.

As usual, China is releasing few "spoilers" about their upcoming mission, and comments on the progress of Shenzhou 6 have mostly been limited to short articles in China's state-run media. We're assured that preparations are going smoothly, which is probably the case, and China hopes to launch two men for five days.

SpaceDaily has repeatedly lamented the lack of media access to Shenzhou in the past, but it seems worthwhile reiterating these remarks. Spaceflight is a wonderful, fascinating achievement, and it deserves more coverage and recognition than it receives. At the very least, China could publish more information and multimedia on her own Web sites.

China has stated that the Shenzhou 6 spacecraft and the Long March 2F launch vehicle that will carry it have both been completed. Confidence in the hardware for this upcoming mission is probably higher than ever, given that China now has extensive experience in debugging its design and manufacturing process.

Chinese media statements were frank in noting that design changes and engineering fixes were regularly made before Shenhou's previous missions, a common factor in new program. But the production process for Shenzhou should be reasonably settled by now.

China has been coy about the experimental payloads that will be carried on this mission, but we can assume that the crew will certainly be using the large Orbital Module at the front of the spacecraft as a laboratory, as well as allowing more living space for the long flight. Some experiments, as usual, will require no intervention from the crew, and some payloads will continue operating on board the Orbital Module after the crew returns to Earth. The Orbital Module will probably make a solo flight of roughly six months.

One topic that has been absent from most coverage of Shenzhou since the flight of Yang Liwei has been tracking stations. Shortly after he returned to Earth, a diplomatic tussle involving the recognition of the government of Taiwan by the Pacific island nation of Kiribati ensued. China promptly dismantled a tracking station hosted in Kiribati and withdrew its personnel.

This station was apparently used to track Shenzhou 5, and would probably have been earmarked for future Shenzhou missions. But China has been closely collaborating with Europe in space matters, and may end up using European facilities to track Shenzhou in the future, even if such tracking doesn't appear on the next mission.

China also has a fleet of tracking ships, which can be moved to compensate for the lack of the Kiribati station, as well as land-based facilities elsewhere in Asia and Africa. So tracking arrangements for Shenzhou 6 will certainly be different from Shenzhou 5, but these differences will probably do nothing to compromise the mission.

Earlier this month, China announced that the crew candidates for Shenzhou 6 had been cut back from a pool of 14 candidates to just 6, a move that stands in contrast to China's "last minute" policy with selecting its first astronaut.

This is understandable from a logistical standpoint. The six "finalists" should provide enough redundancy to ensure that a suitable crew is ready for the mission, even if accident or misadventure disqualifies some of them from flight. The smaller candidate pool should also allow more time on simulators and other support equipment during the final stages of training.

China has not given the identities of the finalists, and has not given any precise indications if Yang Liwei is among them. But China is unlikely to risk the life of a national hero on another space mission, at least, not until spaceflight becomes more routine.

China has also announced that extravehicular activity, or spacewalking, is planned for Shenzhou 7, the mission to follow. This is not very surprising, as spacewalking has previously been earmarked as a short-term goal for Shenzhou. But the nomination of Shenzhou 7 as the targeted mission places the upcoming mission in perspective.

Some analysts had speculated that Shenzhou 6 would be the opening act in a plan to stage Shenzhou's first docking in space. According to this speculation, the orbital module of Shenzhou 6 would be left in orbit for an extended period, where it would serve as a docking target for Shenzhou 7, which would have to be launched before the Shenzhou 6 module decayed from orbit.

This would require a docking collar on Shenzhou 6, possible modifications to the orbital module (a second hatch, to ensure the module remained pressurized after it separated from the Descent Module) and a Shenzhou 7 launch within four months, in order to ensure that the Orbital Module was still at a safe altitude.

Such plans now seem unlikely. There will probably be no docking system on Shenzhou 6, and no need to accelerate the launch of Shenzhou 7. The next Shenzhou mission will be a stand-alone flight, just like its predecessors. Shenzhou 7 itself will also be a stand-alone flight, requiring no co-ordination with other flights to perform its spacewalking tests. But Shenzhou 8, and missions beyond, remain as clear candidates for rendezvous and docking.

Spacewalking for Shenzhou 7 is also an understandable extrapolation of the upcoming Shenzhou 6 flight. China has previously stated that it's introducing new spacesuits for Shenzhou 6, which can be easily removed in-flight to allow the astronauts to work in shirtsleeve conditions. Obviously, an in-cabin suit is different to a spacewalk suit, but it suggests that China is ramping up the development and testing of its spacesuits.

The experience in donning and doffing suits and other equipment on Shenzhou 6 will help with the next flight. Possibly, the crew of Shenzhou 6 will test some of the equipment and procedures to be used for spacewalking, even if they do not carry EVA suits on this mission.

The next months will hopefully yield some more tidbits on this upcoming flight, but we will certainly hear more when the astronauts are finally in orbit.

Related Links
Search SpaceDaily
Subscribe To SpaceDaily Express

Over 100 Dead Or Missing In China Mine Disasters
Beijing (AFP) Jul 11, 2005
At least 63 miners died and 38 others are missing after three separate accidents in China's beleaguered coal mine industry, state media and a government agency said Monday.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2016 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.