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Forum:ESA - JAXA - China - International
Topic:China's unmanned Shenzhou 8 to Tiangong-1
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The spacecraft, carried by a modified Long March-2F carrier rocket, is expected to dock with Tiangong-1 space lab module that was sent into space on Sept. 29.

The rendezvous and docking maneuver will take place within two days of the launch of Shenzhou 8, and the practice will build up experience for further docking with Shenzhou 9 and 10 in 2012 and the building of a permanent manned space station around 2020.

Launch declared a success

The commander-in-chief of China's manned space program Chang Wanquan announced that the launch of Shenzhou 8 unmanned spacecraft was successful.

The spacecraft was successfully sent into the designated orbit.

Credit: Xinhua

The launch was attended by Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang. It was also witnessed from the launch site by senior officials from the European Space Agency and the German Aerospace Center.

Robert PearlmanXinhua state news service
China accomplishes first space docking

Two Chinese spacecraft accomplished the country's first docking early Thursday, Nov. 3 (Beijing time) silently coupling in space more than 343 km (213 miles) above Earth's surface.

Nearly two days after it was launched, the unmanned Shenzhou 8 docked with space lab module Tiangong-1 at 1:35 a.m. (12:35 p.m. CDT on Nov. 2).

The success of the docking procedure makes China the third country in the world, after the U.S. and Russia, to master the technique, moving the country one step closer to establishing its own space station.

President Hu Jintao, who is in France for the G-20 summit, sent a congratulatory message on the success of the country's first-ever space docking.

Other leaders, including members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, watched the mission at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center.

China is now equipped with the basic technology and capacity required for the construction of a space station, said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program.

"This will make it possible for China to carry out space exploration on a larger scale," he said.

"The capability increases China's ability to act independently in space, as well as its ability to cooperate with others," said Gregory Kulacki, senior analyst and China project manager at the global security program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit scientific advocacy group based in the United States.

"China's pursuit of an original solution to space docking, that is based on their understanding of the experience of other nations, could lead to innovations or experiences other space-faring nations could find useful," Kulacki said.

The world's first space docking was achieved in 1966, when the manned U.S. spacecraft Gemini 8 docked with an unmanned Agena Target Vehicle.

Forty-five (45) years later, the maneuver remains a technological challenge. Many of mankind's 300-plus attempts have been met with difficulties or resulted in failure.

"To link up two vehicles traveling at 7.8 km per second in orbit, with a margin of error of no more than 20 centimeters, is like 'finding a needle in a haystack'," Zhou said.

The Shenzhou-8 and Tiangong-1 will separate after flying together for 12 days, after which a second docking procedure will be conducted.

Robert PearlmanXinhua state news service
China completes second space docking test

China's Shenzhou 8 unmanned spacecraft re-docked successfully with the Tiangong-1 space lab module Monday evening, according to the mission's control center.

About half an hour before docking, the Shenzhou 8 had successfully disengaged from Tiangong-1 after a 12-day flight together.

The Shenzhou 8, launched on Nov. 1, rendezvoused and docked with the Tiangong-1 module on Nov. 3 in an orbit 343 kilometers (213 miles) above Earth, marking China's first space docking.

Tiangong-1 has been in orbit since its launch on Sept. 29.

The docking mechanism, composed of up to 10,000 parts, and the more than 600 instruments aboard Shenzhou 8 were all developed and made by China, said Wu Ping, spokeswoman for the manned space program, at an earlier press conference.

The Shenzhou 8 is set to return to Earth on the evening of Nov. 17, Wu said.

China's spacecraft will conduct two more space docking missions in 2012, and the country plans to establish its own space lab around 2016 and a manned space station around 2020, according to Wu.

Robert PearlmanXinhua state news service
Shenzhou 8 lands in Inner Mongolia

China's Shenzhou 8 spacecraft landed in north China Thursday, after completing the country's first-ever space docking mission.

The spacecraft's re-entry module parachuted down at a landing site in Siziwang Banner (county) in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at around 7:30 p.m. (5:30 a.m. CST, 1130 GMT) on Nov. 17, marking the end of the space docking mission.

Launched Nov. 1 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, Shenzhou 8 rendezvoused and docked with the Tiangong-1 space lab module two days later.

The joint vehicles orbited Earth for 12 days and conducted another docking after a brief separation on Nov. 14.

The Tiangong-1, which lifted off from the Jiuquan launch center on Sept. 29, will remain in orbit to await future docking attempts with the Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 spacecraft in 2012.

At least one of the two missions will take astronauts into space, said Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's manned space program.

See here for discussion of Shenzhou 8 and the Tiangong-1 space module.

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