China Launches 3 Astronauts to Tiangong-1 Space Station

China launched the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft with three astronauts aboard atop a Long March 2F rocket on Saturday. Commander Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang — the first Chinese woman in space — are headed for a two-week mission to the Tiangong-1 space station. This will be the first human crew to dock with China’s first space station, which was launched last year. The crew will dock with Tiangong-1 on Monday. This is China’s first human launch in nearly four years.

Video Report on Impending Chinese Human Space Launch

Reports indicate that the launch will take place on Saturday afternoon. The crew will spend two days to reach the Tiangong-1 space station and 10 days on board. China will send its first female astronaut into space on this flight.The space station is about half the size of the Soviet Salyut facilities launched during the 1970s.

China to Launch Astronauts to Space Station Soon

A taikonaut emerges from China's Shenzhou 7 spacecraft after a successful orbital flight

Xinhua has an update on China’s human spaceflight program:

China will launch its Shenzhou-9 manned spacecraft sometime in mid-June to perform the country’s first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module, a spokesperson said here Saturday.

The spacecraft and its carrier rocket, the Long March-2F, were moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Saturday, a spokesperson with the country’s manned space program said….

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Chinese Schedule First Human Mission to Tiangong-1 for Summer

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

Three taikonauts aboard China’s Shenzhou 9 spacecraft will dock with the Tiangong-1 space station between June and August, Chinese officials have announced. This will be the first human stay aboard the nation’s first space station, which was launched last year.

The taikonauts will validate rendezvous and docking procedures and conduct experiments aboard the laboratory. Chinese officials have not announced how long the mission will last. A second human is set to follow with Shenzhou 10.

China Lays Out Ambitions for Human Spaceflight, Lunar Exploration

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

The Chinese government has issued a white paper outlining its space plans for the next five years. Highlights include:

  • sending the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft to “achieve unmanned or manned rendezvous and docking” with the Tiangong-1 space station;*
  • launching space laboratories, human spacecraft and space freighters into orbit;
  • making major breakthroughs in key space station technologies;
  • conducting studies on a preliminary plan for landing astronauts on the moon;
  • launching orbiters, landers, rovers and sample return missions to the moon;
  • developing new launch vehicles, including one capable of putting 25 metric tons of cargo into low Earth orbit;
  • completing construction of the Hainan space launch site and making it operational; and
  • strengthening its work on space debris monitoring and mitigation.

* I had previously thought that the next two Shenzhou missions (9 and 10) would have crews, but the white paper indicates that at least one of the flights might be automated. The automated Shenhou-8 docking mission appeared — publicly, at least — to have gone off without a hitch, so I’m not sure why they would need to repeat the flight. Curious.

Excerpts from the white paper follow after the break. I have rearranged the order of the subjects covered to place the most interesting material at the top, but I have not altered any of the text.

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Video: China’s Ambitious Human Spaceflight Program

China is looking forward to a busy 2012 in space, with 20 launches planned and at least one crew visiting its Tiangong-1 space station.

The nation succeeded in launching 18 rockets in 19 attempts during 2011, surpassing the United States in total launches in a year for the first time. The U.S. launched 18 rockets with 17 successes this year.

Ho Ho No! ‘Tis the Season to be Bummed….

A Titan rocket explodes just after liftoff. (Credit: USAF)
A bad day for the Titan rocket. (Credit: USAF)

It’s only two days after Christmas, but the holiday cheer that usually extends through New Year’s Day seems to have worn off for some pundits. Some are looking back in horror, others ahead with trepidation…

Lunar scientist Paul Spudis says good riddance to the year in space in Annus Horribilis: Space in 2011. So, what went wrong? The space shuttle program ended, the commercial crew effort appears doomed, NASA’s new mission statement lacks any actual missions, the Space Launch System is a bloated mess, the James Webb telescope is sucking the life out of the science budget, and John Marburger passed away.

Gee, that does sound bad. Now, I’m seriously depressed…and I was pretty happy until just now.

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Will Italy Build Modules for Future Chinese Space Stations?

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

Now that China has its Tiangong-1 space station in orbit, the rising space power has a great bargaining chip for concluding cooperative agreements with other nations. This week, China signed a deal with Italy that could see the Italians helping to build future Chinese space stations and flying their astronauts to them.

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China to Launch First Space Station Next Week

China's Tiangong-1 space laboratory with a Shenzhou spacecraft approaching it. (Credit: CNSA)

The Chinese Xinhua news agency reports that the nation will launch its first space station between Sept. 27 and 30.

The 8.5-metric ton Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace 1) is about half the size of the early Soviet Salyut space stations that were launched in the 1970s.  It will serve as docking target for three Shenzhou spacecraft. The first will dock unmanned to demonstrate that capability.  If that mission is successful, two crews will dock at the station and conduct experiments.

The launch of the station was delayed from early September because of a failure of a Long March rocket. Additional checks were required.

China Plans Early September Launch for Tiangong-1 Space Station

The Tiangong-1 space station with a Shenzhou spacecraft. Credit: CNSA

The People’s Daily reports:

According to an unnamed source in a position of authority in Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, the remarkable Chinese unmanned space module Tiangong 1 will be launched soon.

However, because the experimental orbiter SJ-11-04, which was launched last week, failed to enter Earth’s orbit, the launch of Tiangong 1 has been postponed until early September.