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China getting ready for Shenzhou 11 launch
by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Oct 11, 2016

Rollout of the Long March 2F launch vehicle carrying the Shenzhou 11

The rollout of the Long March 2F launch vehicle carrying the Shenzhou 11 spacecraft was a critical step in the lead-up to its launch. It's also an indication that the state of the rocket and the spacecraft are both good.

Conditions at the launchpad at Jiuquan are also fine. That's partially a consequence of having a launch site that's deep inland, where it is protected from hurricanes. NASA and other tenants in Florida have recently experienced an unpleasant reminder of this problem.

The Tiangong 2 space laboratory seems to be functioning well in orbit, and is ready to receive the crew of Shenzhou 11. China would not have rolled out Shenzhou 11 if there were problems aboard the laboratory.

The launch preparations seem to be going well, but it seems that Chinese state media coverage is tightening. We didn't have much in the way of updates before the rollout. We are not getting much now.

We can expect that the launch itself will be covered well by Chinese media, but the whole mission really does seem to be playing out at a lower key. Admittedly, Chinese astronaut launches are becoming more routine, but they are still important. China could do more to inform us.

We can extrapolate a potential launch date from the rollout, but any such estimate is still not an official announcement. Nor is it entirely guaranteed. The time between these two events can fluctuate if technical glitches are found.

It can also vary due to weather or other factors. The rocket itself can sit comfortably on the launchpad for an extra day or two with no damage. But we can say with a fair degree of confidence that the launch will take place before October 20.

We know the rocket. We know the spacecraft. We know the mission. We still don't know the crew, and we will probably not be told until shortly before launch. There will also be a back-up crew, but it could take longer to discover their identities.

The next big step for China is to confirm the launch date.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst who has written for spacedaily.com since 1999. Email morrisjonesNOSPAMhotmail.com. Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.

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