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Tiangong-1 Shenzhou-8 & Shenzhou-9, 10 Mission

China’s Next Manned Spaceflight Program

© By Charles P. Vick (All Rights Reserved)

Senior Technical & Space Policy Analyst, Globalsecurity.org

10-7-2008--09-03-10/ 06-15-12

The Next Missions Tiangong-1, Man-tended Space Laboratory, Shenzhou-8 & Shenzhou-9, 10 during This Five Year Plan & 2011 Start Next F.Y.P.

Tiangong -1 / Shenzhou-9

This Tiangong-1/Shenzhou-9 mission launch scheduled for 6:37 AM Beijing time Saturday evening or 12:37 GMT is to demonstrate several major milestones that are being attempted by China with this crewed mission. The two crews are with some previous flight experienced embodied in the leading crew members:

The prime crew consist of:

Commander Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang & Liu Yang the first Chinese woman

While the back-up crew is:

Commander Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang & Wang Yaping first chinese woman back-up


The first milestone is the crewing and operation of the Tiangong-1 laboratory research module as planned as a prelude to the larger Mir class space  station that is planned for the following two five year plans. That entails getting the onboard systems operating as planned as well as testing the capabilities for such a crew to utilize this module for further developments in space exploration for  science and technology embodied with in the five year plan goals. Second milestone is not merely with a manned crew but also with China's first woman as a part of the crew to be achieved by China. The Chinese introduction of Women into the Taikonaut program is merely following the natural development of that process as experienced in other international space programs. Third milestone is the full demonstration of the Tiangong module is a prelude not merely to the Mir class station but other widely varied civil/military experimental mission possibilities being considered by China.the fourth milestone is demonstrating with the Shenzhou and Tiangong spacecraft a broader capability class of spacecraft that separately or in combination with or without propulsion stages already in existence or being developed that can carry out much greater mission for the Chinese in near earth space including the cis-lunar capability. The fifth milestone is to have the first first crewed docking which is to first to be accomplished by autonomius docking observation observed by the crew and later crew operated manual space docking is planned. The sixth milestone is an almost two week 10-14 days life support & environmental control reliability demonstration for both spacecraft during the mission. That could open the door for longer more spectacular mission in the future.The next milestone is China's demonstration that it can do this alone wit out the ISS that it has been kept from participating because of MTCR and NNPT issues. This year as of September 21 represents 20 years since the start of China's manned program in 1992. Shenzhou-9 is the 10th launch of the four manned missions to date as the third nation to place crewed missions into near earth space.

Shenzhou-10's crewed flight is not expected until early in 2013. Tiangong 2, and Tiangong-3 will follow in the coming years and will reflect experience learned improvements on the modules design. Future development of the Tiangong spacecraft is expected to serve as a tanker and cargo carrier for the Mir class space station and other crewed advanced higher earth orbit missions.

Program Pacing

China is doing its own form of space exploration development trying to not make the same mistakes of previous nations developments. Quite literally China in its systematic developments is deliberately caulking off the milestones that Russia and the U.S. have accomplished but by adding the Tiangong laboratory is in effect matching some of the present space station activities all by themselves to push the basic technologies to push the basic sciences for economic development before the world stage.

The limited pacing of the PRC Chinese crewed program is indicative of addressing long term State planning goals as well as addressing the development and proving of the technology to accomplish its national human spaceflight requirements.  However it also reflects limited funding and stretch out of that program effort (no doubt one of the most expensive taking into account the development of the LM-5 and it launch infrastructure during this five year plan) but a fulfillment of the present five year plans. The Tiangong-1/ Shenzhou-9 mission is the reflection of a longer term future more permanent space station program already a national approved effort  as well as future deep space manned efforts being considered by the PRC for it future five year planning efforts. So it is apparent that the Chinese manned spaceflight deliberately slowed effort utilizing the available resources is delivering the five year plan goals under the intent to fulfill national goals safely before the world community as a demonstration of it world power status.

Looking to the Immediate Future

The continued testing and proving of confidence in the Tiangong-1/Shenzhou  human crewed spaceflight hardware is providing China with the ability to consider deeper space mission beyond the obvious future space station development in progress. This  obvious implications is the at some point the Chinese crewed space program may attempt a near deep space high earth orbit mission utilizing a derivation of the Tiangong module or even leading up to a crewed cis-lunar class circumnavigation mission and eventually lunar orbital mission. The PRC has put a lot of time and effort with its limited national resources to prove the Shenzhou crew transport spacecraft in addition to the Tiangong module. Future development could in fact be accomplished with existing launch vehicles and upper stages for propulsion needs for such missions but will become much simpler once the LM-5 is developed and proven reliable for crewed flight.

Tiangong-1 space laboratory module

Tiangong-1 space laboratory module was successfully launched into space during September 2011. That was followed with the successful launch of the Shenzhou-8 un-crewed spacecraft in November 2011. Shenzhou-8 completed China's first automated hard docking to the Tiangong-1soon afterwards during that month.

The China completed the construction of the 8,500 kilogram Tiangong-1 space laboratory module before August 17, 2010 . It is now undergoing full systems electronics, mechanical and thermal environmental testing prior to being shipped to the Jiuquan space launch center for launch in the second half of 2011. Subsequently in early 2012 the un-crewed Shenxhou-8 space craft will be launched on a rendezvous and docking mission demonstration to the Tiangong-1 space laboratory. If successful crewed missions could follow. Once this vehicle has completed its missions it is to be followed by several additional Tiangong modules.

This shortened Shenzhou-7 flight with its primary EVA, multi-human crew mission demonstration is all a prelude of mission and future capability to come that must first be successfully accomplished before moving on to bigger and better earth orbital rendezvous operations as presently planned.

This is before going to the next planned phase two goal, spacecraft docking mission with the uncrewed automatic docking of Shenzhou-8 with the all up Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace-1) space laboratory module mission. This will create the initial rudimentary space laboratory station called Tiangong-1 several of which are planned to be launched over the next two five year plans It will be placed into a 400 kilometer circular orbit at an inclination of 42-43 degrees. It will be crewed by perhaps two or three person human passengers on Shenzhou-9 & Shenzhou-10 missions if the docking of the unmanned Tiangong 1, and uncrewed Shenzhou-8 is successful.

Tiangong-1was to be launched by the end of 2010 but is now scheduled for first half of 2011 on a modified Long March-2F called Long March-2F/G. The Tiangong modules are 3.35 meters in diameter and have an approximately mass of 8-8.5 metric ton (7,800 to 8,000-8,500 kgs). They are essentially believed to be wider lengthened orbital modules with a front docking port with no descent module attached. Perhaps it will be launched with a variant of the uncrewed Shenzhou type instrument propulsion module with its two multi paneled solar arrays as a station module. Tiangong-1 has a not unexpected similar appearance to the Soviet era Salyut space station but is definitely smaller than Salyut's design. This will accelerate the crewed space platform program to phase three. This rudimentary human space platform will be made up primarily from the derivation Shenzhou “Tiangong 1” module and the docked Shenzhou-8, 9, & 10 spacecraft orbital modules which are independent spacecraft in their own right.

The Schedule Missions

The uncrewed Shenzhou-8 is to be launched for its docking test in the second half of 2011. The expected crewed Shenzhou 9 & 10 missions spacecraft are planned for launch in 2012. The Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 space laboratories are expected to be launched for docking missions as well as for regenerative life support and cargo resupply mission demonstrations during the next two five year plans between 2014 and 2016 .

Where and whether the second docking port on Tiangong modules is located is clearly identified is key to understanding their planning. This would portend the possibility of a yet to be proven Chinese capability to replace the stations instrument propulsion module as required. This however has yet to be clarified or confirmed from the available released information.

Clearly something has been lost in all the speculation going around that has not been looked at realistically. Several major things give the answers along with one other realization. That is that the Chinese PRC human crewed space programs are a stretched out under funded multi pronged program to push the basic sciences and technology for themselves. Two the development of the Long March-5 program and its support infrastructure development is a huge national resources burden draw from the funds available for space programs. There is only so much that this and the next five year plan can handle based on the obvious limits to the discretionary funds. Three it is stipulated that only “ four launches will be done in two years” that was started in the present Five Year Plan 1-2006 through 1-2011 but will only start flying between the two five year plan 2006-2010/2011-2015. To date that has not changed. There is one and only one Tiangong module launch in late 2010 fourth quarter now early first half of 2011 as presently planned due to technical delays. Talk of so called launches with a rapid succession of Shenzhou 8 after Tiangong-1 launch has now been stretched out for operations and personnel facilities resource limits. Shnenzou-8 is now scheduled for launch in the second half of 2011. Two more launches Shenzhou-9 & 10 missions possibly crewed in sequence are planned for the 2012 time frame). The total stations life span is two years but that is dependent on the rate of the utilization of the expendables not all of which are replaceable as the design is presently understood. There was talk that once Tiangong 1 was launched the three Shenzhou 8, 9 &10 spacecraft would“be launched with in a month of each other” in a series of rapid succession two launch operations not previously seen but built into the launch facility infrastructure’s capability on the Jiuquan infrastructure. None of these Tiangong modules will dock together as presently envisioned.

Certainly the combination as envisioned will incorporate 10 and 15 day and perhaps up to 20 or 30 day mission duration capability for a two person crew. There should be no confusion about the Tiangong-1 module technological design because it has perhaps two docking ports one in front definitely identified and perhaps one in the rear (not identified) connected to its launch instrument propulsion module. It should also be clear at some point one of the Shenzhou orbital modules will have to be jettisoned to make way for the next crewed docking because the orbital modules and instrument propulsion modules are being used perhaps as interchangeable service modules. By no means is it clear that the Shenzhou Orbital module on these missions will be capable of being interchangeable service modules as they have been flown in the past but this would seem more logical to equip them with such a capability. This is in addition to the man tended Shenzhou spacecraft that utilize the orbital modules docked to the small space lab. By doing things this way China will be able to demonstrate the kind of logistic support required for long duration operations in both crewed and uncrewed modes. In many respects the Tiangong-1 reminds us of the uncrewed Progress re supply spacecraft hardware operations concept. The replenishment supplies will be carried by Shenzhou-8 for the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 crew stay periods. Close study of the hardware suggest that the Shenzhou orbital module could be equipped with a hatch between the descent module and the interior of the orbital module. How all this work in sequence is amazingly simple and ingenious in it simple design approach if that is indeed the intent and design being developed but that is not yet confirmed?

 Suggested Tiangong-1, Shenzhou-8 & Shenzhou-9, 10 Mission Sequences

1. First launch of the uncrewed small spacecraft Tiangong-1 space laboratory module with its Shenzhou class instrument propulsion module with its own two solar arrays was planned for late 2010 near the end of the present five year plan but is now planned for the first half of 2011 early in the next five year plan is the new schedule announced due to technical delays.

2. This will be followed in the second half of 2011 by the unmanned launch and automatic docking demonstration of the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft utilizing their common APAS type docking system. It's orbital module can serve as an instrument propulsion module for the Tiangong-1 module if it jettisons its own instrument propulsion module or together to reserve the Tiangong-1 instrument propulsion modules propellants. That uncrewed Shenzhou-8 orbital module or the Shenzhou-9 will bring up the supplies for the two crewed missions to follow as well as preserve the Tiangong-1 expendable supplies.

3. The subsequent crewed or uncrewed Shenzhou-9 and crewed Shenzhou-10 will also use their orbital modules to bring up supplies in sequence and to serve as instrument propulsion modules.

4. Once the Shenzhou-8 descent module and instrument propulsion module have parted its orbital module with the German experimental payload it can serve temporally as an instrument propulsion module for the Tiangong-1 module.

5. In a series of rapid succession two or three person crew mission launched within a month of one another the uncrewed or crewed Shenzhou-9 missions the Shenzhou-10 crewed spacecraft will demonstrate docking and operation of the Tiangong-1 module space laboratory. This procedure seems to have now been stretched out over a year to successfully demonstrate the program hardware with out having to repeat the development test in flight putting them behind schedule. Their are real limits to what they can do until the Long March-5, 6, and 7 programs come on line thus we see the stretch out now manifesting itself.

6. As they near the end of their Shenzhou-9 mission the Shenzhou-10 crewed spacecraft will be launched and the now empty Shenzhou-9 orbital module full of trash will be jettisoned opening up the port for the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft docking.

7. Either before or soon after the Shenzhou-10 docking the Shenzhou-9 descent module with its instrument propulsion module will depart perhaps leaving the Shenzhou-9 orbital module to serve as an instrument propulsion module.

8. After the completion of the Shenzhou-10 mission the crew will return using their instrument propulsion module and descent module leaving the Shenzhou-10 orbital module to control the Tiangong-1 module to the end of it design life.

9. The Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules are expected to be flown in similar manners between 2014 and 2016 with follow up crewed Shenzhou-11 through Shenzhou-14 missions with derivation re supply spacecraft fully demonstrating the mastery of rendezvous and docking technology in addition to extended length manned missions through re supply operations. These mission will extend the Tiangong - Shenzhou missions program through 2016.

Thus this space laboratory module program will have demonstrated docking, re-supply, endurance and regenerative life support systems and most of all interchangeable hand off of the service control modules in perhaps two forms besides the human tended space laboratory operations for its multiple intentions

The Shenzhou-10 spacecraft is expected to carry a two person crew. Each of these Shenzhou spacecraft launches were expected to be carried out in something under a month between each launch since the Tiangong 1 station module has a design life of two year depending on the rate of use of expendables and crewing. There is expected to be some lapse of time between the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft missions.

Chinese planning seems to indicate the intent to maintain a contingency Shenzhou-9 mission depending on the Shenzhou-8 docking performance. If Shenzhou-8 is successful then that could clear the way for a crewed Shenzhou-9 mission but definitely Shenzhou-10 will be crewed. Additional Tiangong class module and Shenzhou missions are not yet fully defined like these first four launches but they may be planned for the post Tiangong-1 operations with a newer module and the subsequent multiple Shenzhou spacecraft launches with in the next five year plan 2011-2015. This remains only partially confirmed as they seem to indicate that the post Tiangong-1through 3 effort will be refocused on the permanent Salyut class space station effort because of the economic and technological issues with the larger space station and LM-5 programs.

That is a total of three Shenzhou spacecraft one uncrewed and two crewed and the uncrewed Tiangong 1 module. That initial program will end in the first two year of the next five year plan. The earth orbital assembly docking of the uncrewed Tiangong 1 module and subsequent three Shenzhou spacecraft number 8, 9 & 10 is tentatively scheduled for launch within the first half year of the next five year plan 2011. The uncrewed Tiangong 1 docking with the uncrewed Shenzhou-8 spacecraft will be the initial demonstrate of the technological know how to establish the rudimentary space station within this five year plan. It is to be followed by the docking of the Shenzhou-9 crewed spacecraft to finally establish the rudimentary small crewed spacecraft laboratory for longer duration scientific missions. Soon afterwards with the next crewed Shenzhou-10 crewed spacecraft launch the second crew manning of the space laboratory will take place as the mission planned durations are carried out. This is expected to serve as a demonstration longer duration crewed mission as a military reconnaissance platform among other task that could be facilitated. Previous models of the Shenzhou spacecraft have been utilized for this purpose from the observed on board equipment.


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