921 Project Shenzhou
China and Piloted Space Programs
China's space station, which was expected to debut around 2020, may become humanities's only foothold in space when the International Space Station retires in 2024 the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). With the space station, Chinese sources claoim "China will become the second country after the former Soviet Union to have developed a space station with its own efforts" ignoring American programs. China's astronauts, all selected from commissioned pilots of the People's Liberation Army Air Force, are mainly responsible for operating spacecraft, according to Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program. "In the future, we need astronauts from different backgrounds, engineers and scientists in particular, because we will carry out scientific experiments in the space station," Zhou said.
Since the late 1970's the PRC had seriously planned for the eventual flight of Chinese astronauts, but by the early 1990s shifting program priorities resulted in only preliminary work in the areas of spacecraft design and space medicine. Small teams of Chinese had undergone some astronaut training, and designs for manned spacecraft ranging from simple capsules to space shuttles to space stations had all been drawn up. A 1978 decision to embark on a Chinese manned space program was short-lived, although astronaut training and space suit design were initiated (References 66-70).
The 1984 prospect of a Chinese astronaut flying on the US Space Shuttle never materialized (Reference 65). By the mid-1980's PRC began to talk about building a manned Chinese space station in apparent competition with the US and the USSR programs (References 71-76). Although discussions of sophisticated space shuttles were offered, the near-term goal appeared to be a Gemini-class capsule launched by an expendable booster with a crew of 2-4 astronauts.
In 1994 the PRC held discussions with Russian aerospace officials for the purpose of acquiring Soyuz technology to be adapted to a Chinese recoverable capsule for launch by a CZ-2E booster, perhaps as early as the year 2002. The launch site may be a new facility reported in 1992 to be under construction 200 km from Jiuquan (References 77-82). It was later reported that the new manned launch infrastructure was to be finished in 1997 with the CZ-2F booster facilities systems test vehicles being run out to the new pad in May 1998. In 1999 imagery from those roll out infrastructure test were released publicly. In 1992, China developed an ambitious three-step strategy for a manned space program.
- In the first phase, unmanned and later manned space vehicles will be put into space for astronauts to conduct scientific experiments and surveys from within the capsule while in orbit. The first step, to send an astronaut into space and return safely, was fulfilled by Yang Liwei in the Shenzhou-5 mission in 2003.
- The second step was developing advanced space flight techniques and technologies including extra-vehicular activity and orbital docking. This phase also included the launch of two space laboratories -- effectively mini space-stations that could be manned on a temporary basis. In the second phase, astronauts will conduct spacewalk's for the purpose of research, and space stations that operate on their own for most of the time and only need to be taken care of for a brief period of time will be created and launched into space.
- The next step will be to assemble and operate a permanent manned space station. In the third phase, larger space stations with the ability to house astronauts for longer periods of time will be built.
In early 1999 the first piloted Chinese spaceflight was widely anticipated to be attempted in October 1999, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People"s Republic. On 18 March 1998 Ma Xingrui, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) stated (Reference 159) that:
"China is striving to make breakthroughs in manned space flight technology at the end of this century or the beginning of the next century, and will launch small lunar explorer when possible,"
Two Chinese astronauts, Wu Jie and Li Qinglong [also transliterated as Wu Tse and Li Tsinlung], participated in a two-year training program at the Russian Yuri Gagarin Center beginning in November 1996. And work on a recoverable 20-ton spacecraft at the Shanghai Academy of Space Technology is said to be nearing completion (Reference 160). Work under the code name "Project 921" was reported to envision two unmanned test flights in for 1998. As with the Russian the Soyuz the Chinese spacecraft will include a reentry capsule and an orbital life module, but unlike Soyuz it does not include an approach and docking system (Reference 161).
In August 1999 Wang Xingqing, general designer with the Chinese Academy of Launch-Vehicle Technology, stated that that first Chinese human space flight would take place around 2005. In June 1999 images purporting to be those of a version of China's Long March booster capable of launching a piloted spacecraft were made public. While some "enhancement" may have taken place, there was evidently some basis in truth of these images of the Long March 2F. Close study of the LM-2F design revealed that the telemetery and command and control antenna's had been rearranged from the original design seen on the LM-2E booster arrangement in addition to other upgrading's design changes up rating the booster performance.
According to the China National Space Administration or CNSA, China’s Space Program consists of three stages. Phase 1 was the launch of a manned spacecraft that will execute various space experiments. The Shenzhou 5 and 6 completed this stage’s mission.
The launch of a space laboratory marked Phase 2 of the program. One of the missions during this stage will be the docking of a manned spacecraft and space lab, which was a prototype of China’s ultimate space station to carry out experiments. Shenzhou 7 was the third human spaceflight, which included the first Chinese extra-vehicular activity or EVA, a milestone during this phase. The launch of the Tiangong Space Lab and Shenzhou 8 to 10 Spacecraft was expected to complete the rest of the second phase missions, which paves the way for China’s ultimate goal of constructing a space station. Its operation was part of Phase 3, which will take place in the future.
Tiangong-1 was the first Chinese space laboratory module. It was intended as an experimental testbed to develop rendezvous and docking capabilities needed to support a larger space station complex. Tiangong-1 was expected to be visited by three Shenzhou missions during its operational lifetime: the unmanned Shenzhou 8 in 2011, and the manned Shenzhou 9 and 10 in 2012.
After spending approximately two years in orbit, Tiangong-1 would return to earth in 2013. It would be replaced over the following decade by the larger Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules, which would conduct more sophisticated space experiments and probes. Tiangong 2 would fulfill various experiments, introduce new technologies, and possibly develop space medicine. The full-size, multi-module Tiangong 3 space station would have astronauts stationed inside. The station would be supplied by cargo spacecraft.
China will complete the second step of its three-phase development strategy for its manned space program by establishing its own space lab around 2016, a spokeswoman for China's manned space program said 03 November 2011. China's manned space program office said in June 2013 the country planned to launch the Tiangong 2 space lab around 2015. The engineering work was being carried out. Tiangong-2 will be made of larger modules. A core module similar to the Mir Core (or Zvezda), but slightly larger, with a 5-port node on one end and two lab modules. The Tiangong-1 design will be reused and repurposed as a supply vehicle for Tiangong-2, which is to test the core module that will be used for Tiangong-3, which should end up being the modular station. Tiangong 1 was really the prototype of the cargo ship for a future, real space station.
CNSA said the Tiangong 3, China’s first full-size space station, would be a realistic and multi-functional station to perform experiments, production, probing and storing, which they believe would produce fruitful results. For example, the space station would have the ability to develop new types of vegetables and fruits or produce new materials in space. China has set a goal of having its space station to be in place by 2020. China planned to put in orbit an experimental space station core module around 2018. The program also calls for a series of cargo and manned spacecraft to deliver material supplies and transport astronauts to the future space lab and space station.
China announced plans 10 September 2014 to build its first space station by 2022 at an annual Association of Space Explorers (ASE) gathering of astronauts held in Beijing. China originally planned to start operating Tiangong 3 two years earlier in 2020. During the meeting China’s first astronaut and Deputy Chief of China Manned Space Agency Yang Liwei announced the plans that will see the space station completed in less than a decade. Yang said the spacecrafts that will be used at the space station, including the Tiangong 2 space lab, Tianzhou cargo spacecraft, and Changzheng 7 carrier rockets are entering their crucial preparation stages. The in-orbit construction of Tiangong 3 was expected to start in 2018 with the launch of the core structures.
An October 2009 CNSA (Chinese National Space Agency) briefing written by Wang Zhonggui (CNSA Manned Space Engineering deputy general designer), Dong Nengli (CNSA Manned Space Engineering Program) and Zhai Zhigang (CNSA Taikonaut) stated: "During the course of the third step of China Manned space flight program, we will conduct manned lunar mission conception study, validate the key technologies, and finally pave the way for manned lunar exploration mission."
China will start a third round of astronaut selection in 2017, an official from the Astronaut Center of China said 18 NOvember 2016. Huang Weifen, deputy chief designer of the astronaut system with the center, made the announcement at a press conference after the Tiangong-2 and Shenzhou-11 mission came to completion. In preparation for the manned space station program, the new selection process will pick candidates from air force pilots, space engineers and technical staff in aerospace-related fields. China has already signed an agreement with the United Nations opening the Chinese Space Station to receive science payload, astronauts and even modules from countries around the world.
Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program, said 18 NOvember 2016 that China's space station will be comprised of a core module and two experimental modules, each weighing about 20 tonnes. It will accommodate three to six astronauts, Zhou added. The core module is expected to be launched around 2018, and the space station will enter into full service around 2022, with an initial designed life of at least 10 years.
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