Chinese manned spaceflight

Early in the 21st century, China embarked on an ambitious project to equal the achievements of the 20th-century superpowers, sending men into orbit and perhaps beyond.

Although China planned a manned spaceflight programme as early as the 1960s, its chief supporters fell victim to one of the government's periodic purges in the 1970s, and the plan seemed to be forgotten. There was some talk of Chinese cosmonauts flying aboard Mir in the 1980s, or even joining a Space Shuttle crew, but the world was taken by surprise when the Chinese government approved a new manned space programme, initially known as Project 921, in 1992.

The newly formed China National Space Administration (CNSA) benefited from an agreement signed with Russia in 1994, which gave them access to Soyuz capsules, blueprints, and Russian expertise, but despite an overall resemblance to the reliable Soviet spacecraft, the new vehicle, called Shenzhou (meaning "divine vessel"), is completely Chinese in design and manufacture. Like Soyuz, Shenzhou has three separate elements - an orbital module, a re-entry module, and a service module. However, it is significantly larger than Soyuz, and is fitted with two sets of solar arrays - one pair on the service module, the other on the orbital module. This allows the orbital module to continue powered operation even after it has been jettisoned from the rest of the spacecraft and the crew have returned to Earth.

Shenzhou 1, an unmanned development test, was launched in November 1999 by a CZ-2F Long March rocket. It orbited Earth 14 times, tracked by China's

LAUNCH OF SHENZHOU 6

A Long March CZ-2F powers into the sky at Jiuquan, carrying China's second manned mission. In contrast to the first mission, the Shenzhou 6 launch was broadcast live on television.

BIOGRAPHY

RETRIEVING CAPSULE

Engineers retrieve the Shenzhou 6 re-entry capsule from its landing site in Inner Mongolia's Siziwong Banner region. In contrast to early US and Soviet flights, all the Chinese Shenzhou missions so far have come down on target within a relatively small landing zone.

LANDING CELEBRATION

The landing-site team welcome back the crew of Shenzhou 6 after their five-day voyage. Fei Junlong (left) commanded the flight, with Nie Hoisheng as his flight engineer.

network of shipborne monitoring stations, before the re-entry sequence was triggered and the central module landed safely in Inner Mongolia.

The launch of Shenzhou 5 saw the first flight of a Chinese spacefarer (or taikonaut). Although the Chinese authorities announced the flight in advance, they did not permit a live broadcast of the launch, presumably in case something went wrong. Yang Liwei (see panel, left) blasted off from Jiuquan at 09:00 local time on 15 October 2003. He completed 14 orbits of the Earth before landing in Inner Mongolia in a virtual repeat of the Shenzhou 1 mission. Yang remained in the re-entry module throughout the flight, but experiments onboard the orbital module continued to function for five months after the craft had been abandoned in space.

While the early days of the Space Race were marked by frequent competitive launches, the Chinese seem to have adopted a more measured strategy - the world had to wait two years for the launch of Shenzhou 6. This time, two taikonauts remained in orbit for almost five days. They entered and worked in the orbital module for the first time, and continued to test the spacecraft's systems.

The first taikonaut

Three more test flights followed, using dummy astronauts and animals to study conditions and life-support systems. Each of these flights carried experiments onboard, some of which remained in space with the orbital module for extended missions.

STACKING SHENZHOU 5

Technicians at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre oversee attachment of Shenzhou 5, in its protective fairing, to its Long March Cl-2F rocket. Jiuquan is China's current manned launch site, but future Moon missions will launch on a heavy-lift CZ-5 from Wenchang.

Born in China's Liaoning province, the first taikonaut Yang Liwei (b.1965) was fascinated by aviation from his youth and, after joining the People's Liberation Army in 1983, enrolled in its Aviation College No. 8. After graduation, he became a fighter pilot, HNfaf^^^^ accumulating more than 1,300 flying hours in his Air Force career. Selected as a candidate cV HA

'm ^ Mm ,or manned spaceflight in ffiflL 1998, he went through five ^HL^T^^^^Hk years study f mtimT ft 'lll(l siiniil.it ion .it tho

\ -"V-^^f k < its Astronaut Training Base * \ Z^Jw in Beijing. This led to his selection as the pilot for the r ^ Shenzhou 5 Va mission in f^T October ¡M 2003.

from the project's leaders suggest that China is in space for the long term. There are plans for a space station in the early 2010s, a manned lunar landing by 2024, and for missions to Mars after 2040, with spaceprobes venturing out across the Solar System ahead of these manned missions.

Looking further afield than anyone in the West would dare, Shenzhou's chief designer Qi Faren has even spoken seriously of the future exploration of Saturn and its moons.

A future in space

The Chinese space programme can at times be just as inclined to secrecy as the old Soviet one, with little warning of launches when they come. China seems intent on taking its own route to space (though the CNSA has also discussed collaborative missions with foreign space agencies such as ESA), and occasional political speeches and statements

Back to the Moon

In the wake of the Columbia disaster, the future of American manned spaceflight was mired in uncertainty. But in 2004 President Bush gave NASA a new mission to fulfil, beginning with a return to the Moon.

The loss of Columbia sealed the fate of the Space Shuttle - even as the recovery teams swept Texas for debris, it was clear that all hope of

Shuttle flights ever becoming routine was gone. If it had not been for

NASA's international commitment to finish the ISS, the Shuttle might never have flown again. As it was,

America would do what was needed to get the station finished, but then BUSH'S VISH

the Shuttle would be retired and The sweeping other spacecraft could take on the ~Q\tnl v January 2004 i job of crew transfer and resupply. of months of c

A complete withdrawal from NASA officials.

manned spaceflight was never on the cards - the image of the heroic American astronaut is too deeply embedded in the national psyche for that - and a new spacecraft would clearly be needed, but what would its role be? A glorified ferry to service the ISS, or something more? That decision, and a lot else, depended on NASA's future role in spaceflight: despite a number of false dawns, the agency had sorely lacked a central mission since the heyday of Apollo.

To redefine NASA, the Bush administration tk

BUSH'S VISION

The sweeping changes announced by the President in January 2004 were the result of months of discussion with NASA officials.

^the nation should direct their gaze further afield, dusting down and revising the draft moonbase concepts and Martian exploration proposals of the last few decades and finally making them into a reality.

President Bush announced the new Vision for Space Exploration in January 2004. His deadlines were not as challenging as Kennedy's had been four decades previously - NASA nQes should fly its new Crew Exploration ulfrTsult Vehic,e <CEV> bY 2014 and attemPt t0 ission with land on the Moon by 2020.

Nevertheless, the new mission seems to have galvanized the space agency. However, the plan also has many critics, ranging from planetary scientists who think the money would be better spent on unmanned exploration to "new space" advocates who see the project, and NASA, as relics of a monolithic approach that should be swept away in favour of commercial enterprises (see p.308).

The new explorers

The politicians left the detail of the new plan to the experts. As in the early 1960s, the first task was to returned to a concept not seen in manned spaceflight work out the mission profile and the constraints it

NASA'S NEW TECHNOLOGY

Development of the Orion CEV began with the building of a full-size mockup (above) at Johnson Space Center. Although the CEV's shape resembles the Apollo Command Module, it is three times the size and designed to carry a crew of four. Improved heat shielding and a touchdown on land will make each capsule reusable up to ten times. Meanwhile, the development of new spacesuits and roving vehicle prototypes (opposite) got underway in 2006.

NASA'S NEW TECHNOLOGY

Development of the Orion CEV began with the building of a full-size mockup (above) at Johnson Space Center. Although the CEV's shape resembles the Apollo Command Module, it is three times the size and designed to carry a crew of four. Improved heat shielding and a touchdown on land will make each capsule reusable up to ten times. Meanwhile, the development of new spacesuits and roving vehicle prototypes (opposite) got underway in 2006.

Wk-t since the 1960s - exploration. While retaining the benefits of a presence in Earth orbit, the agency and would place on the spacecraft, and NASA settled on a complex but versatile plan involving both Earth-

FUTURE MOON LANDING

This artist's impression shows astronauts ot work around on LSAM. The larger scale of the new spacecraft compared to the two-man Apollo version is clear, and the LSAM will also be capable of unmanned missions.

Earth-orbit rendezvous

An LSAM and Earth Departure Stage are put into space by an Ares rocket. An Orion crew vehicle docks with the LSAM later.

Translunar flight

The Departure Stage fires to put the docked spacecraft on its way to the Moon. Once this is achieved, the stage is discarded.

Lunar-orbit separation

The entire crew then board the LSAM for the descent to the lunar surface, while the CEV remains in orbit, unmanned.

An LSAM and Earth Departure Stage are put into space by an Ares rocket. An Orion crew vehicle docks with the LSAM later.

The Departure Stage fires to put the docked spacecraft on its way to the Moon. Once this is achieved, the stage is discarded.

The entire crew then board the LSAM for the descent to the lunar surface, while the CEV remains in orbit, unmanned.

NASA chose Lockheed Martin to bu spacecraft in August 2006, with a 1 that requires a first flight by 2014. incorporate the latest in flight tech least temporarily act as NASA's tra before the Moon missions get undi 2010s - although the agency is als development of commercial low-Ei that it hopes will take Orion's place on these shorter trips.

In 2006, NASA announced an initial timetable of Constellation launches that would see rocket tes the end of the decade, manned Or in 2014, and a lunar landing in 20 soon followed by the announceme lunar base to be established near I pole by 2024. In preparation, NAS/ wave of unmanned probes to the I with its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbi project's schedule may drift and it: change, but at last, it seems, manl to the Moon.

and lunar-orbit rendezvous, with two launches for each mission. New launch vehicles would also be needed - a small one to carry the CEV, and a heavy lifter to take cargos such as the Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM) into orbit. NASA named the new generation of launch vehicles Ares, from the Greek name for Mars (see panel, right). The CEV will be called Orion, while the entire programme is now officially Project Constellation.

iiId the Orion :imetable The CEV will nology, and will at nsport to the ISS srway in the late o sponsoring the îrth-orbit vehicles

TECHNOLOGY

ARES LAUNCHERS

NASA's new launch vehicles build on the best and most reliable aspects of Shuttle technology, incorporated into a more traditional and far safer design. The manned rocket, Ares I, is effectively an extended version of the Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) with a liquid-fuelled second stage. The Ares V cargo rocket, meanwhile, takes the reliable Delta rocket engines and attaches them directly to the base of a large fuel tank onto which SRBs are strapped. In 2007, NASA announced that it is also developing a more powerful Ares IV launcher, which would use elements of both its siblings in order to eliminate the need for an Earth Departure Stage rocket.

ion flights 19. This was nt of a permanent the Moon's south \ will send a new Vloon, starting ter in 2008. The s priorities may kind is going back

will build new ships :arry man forward ...

rain a new foothold on Moon ..

President George W. Bush, 14 January 2004

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