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China’s unmanned Shenzhou 8 capsule returns to Earth

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http://youtu.be/kjxg6MgTH-s

By Jonathan Amos
A Chinese spacecraft has returned to Earth after completing the nation’s first docking manoeuvres in orbit.

The Shenzhou 8 capsule landed in the Gobi desert late on Thursday (Beijing time), the final moments of its descent having being slowed by parachute.

While in orbit, the unmanned Shenzhou mission had rendezvoused with China’s mini spacelab, Tiangong-1.

The success of the venture paves the way for astronauts to visit the lab next year.

Officials have indicated their desire to launch one, or perhaps two, manned missions in 2012. They have also said that 2012 might even see the country’s first female astronaut.

Ultimately, China hopes the technological progress it is making in orbit will lead to the development of a fully fledged space station at the end of the decade.

Shenzhou 8 spent just under 17 days in orbit in total, the longest Shenzhou mission to date.

Its goal had been to chase down and join with Tiangong-1, to demonstrate the technologies that will be essential if larger structures are to be assembled in space.

Although there were no astronauts – yuhangyuans – on the flight, Shenzhou 8 was carrying biological experiments featuring fish, plants, worms, bacteria and even human cancer cells.

These studies, designed jointly by Chinese and German scientists, were retrieved from the capsule after its return to the grasslands of Siziwang Banner in the north of China at about 19:30 CST (11:30 GMT).

Beijing sees the Tiangong and Shenzhou dockings as the next phase in its step-by-step approach to acquiring the skills of human spaceflight operations.

It is a learning curve China hopes will culminate in the construction of a space station. This could start taking shape before 2020.

At about 60 tonnes in mass, this future station would be considerably smaller than the 400-tonne international platform operated by the US, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan, but its mere presence in the sky would nonetheless represent a remarkable achievement.

Concept drawings describe a core module weighing some 20-22 tonnes, flanked by two slightly smaller laboratory vessels.

Officials say it would be supplied by freighters in exactly the same way that robotic cargo ships keep the International Space Station (ISS) today stocked with fuel, food, water, air, and spare parts.

  • Tiangong-1 was launched in September on a Long March 2F rocket
  • The unmanned laboratory unit was first put in a 350km-high orbit
  • Shenzhou 8 was sent up to rendezvous and dock with Tiangong-1
  • The project tested key technologies such as life-support systems
  • China aims to start building a 60-tonne space station by about 2020

http://www.bbc.co.uk

Written by physicsgg

November 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm

China prepares for unmanned space launch

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Shenzhou 8 will try docking with the Tiangong-1 capsule as it orbits the Earth

By Michael Bristow

BBC News, Beijing

China says it will launch a unmanned spacecraft on Tuesday that will dock with a capsule already orbiting the Earth.

A rocket carrying Shenzhou 8 will blast off early in the morning from the Gobi Desert and rendezvous with the Tiangong 1.

The space capsule was launched in late September and has already been manoeuvred into position.

China is practising docking in order to build a space station by 2020.

Shenzhou 8 is due to be launched from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Gansu province at 05:58 (21:58 GMT).

The docking – which will take place 343km above the Earth – will happen within two days of the launch.

There will be two other attempts to dock with the capsule next year, at least one of which will be manned.

Astronauts – called taikonauts in China – are already being trained for that mission, according to the manned space programme’s spokeswoman Wu Ping.

China hopes to construct and launch a space station by the end of the decade and these docking missions are part of that process.

‘Key foundation’
An orbiting station is just one part of the country’s ambitious plans for space.

“The mastering of rendezvous and docking technologies will lay a key technical foundation for China’s building of a space station and deep-space exploration,” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space programme, according to the Xinhua news agency.

China came late to the space race: it launched its first manned mission in 2003 and carried out its first space walk only three years ago.

It maintains that its aims are purely peaceful.

“The new knowledge obtained through space science research should be common wealth for human beings and should benefit the whole world,” Mr Zhou said.

Foreign observers have been invited to watch the launch of Shenzhou 8.

But China caused alarm in 2007 when it destroyed a defunct weather satellite by firing a land-based rocket at it.

http://www.bbc.co.uk

Written by physicsgg

October 31, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Posted in SPACE

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