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Space for Shenzhou 11
by Morris Jones for SpaceDaily
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Oct 04, 2016

The Shenzhou-11 re-entry capsule at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in August 2016. (Photo: Framegrab/CCTV)

China's state media are quiet right now about the upcoming Shenzhou 11 mission. This spacecraft will carry two astronauts to the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, which seems to have passed all of its on-orbit tests and is ready to support a crew.

We stand right now between the end of the launch and checkout phase for Shenzhou 11, which launched last month, and the build-up to the next mission. Hopefully this quiet phase will not last too much longer. We would really like to know more about the upcoming mission, but so many basic questions remain unanswered.

Shenzhou 11 will be launched this month. Exactly when it launches is the subject of educated guesses and rumours, but there is still no official word. China is keeping its cards close to its chest, as usual.

We will probably only receive official confirmation a few days before launch. But we are still getting clues through inference. The longer China waits to give word, the more we can rule out some of the potential early launch opportunities. So the window gradually narrows, and predictions can gradually become more accurate.

We can expect that preparations for the launch are proceeding normally. Shenzhou and its launch vehicle are both mature and reliable. There are no hints of any delays or problems. In some ways, that makes ongoing coverage of the launch preparations a bit mundane.

Better to save the media spotlight for the launch itself. But it also hints at the ongoing conservatism in media coverage for China's space program.

We still don't know the identities of the crew, or the composition of any potential crews. China probably has two potential crews ready to fly the mission, although one is probably already tipped as the prime. We can guess that there will be one veteran astronaut and one rookie, but even this is not certain.

China should break the silence soon, if only to tell us about mundane preparations for the flight. But even mundane details can hint at a potential launch date. China seems determined to keep that date under wraps for the time being, so the silence on small matters could be influenced by this.

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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