Chinese Long March 2F/G launches Shenzhou-9 on historic mission

by Rui C. Barbosa

Four years after the launch of the historical Shenzhou-7 EVA mission, China is writing another chapter his space history with the launch of the manned Shenzhou-9 mission. On board, the three person crew – including the first female taikonaut – launched at 10:37 UTC on Saturday onboard the Long March 2F/G, from the 921 Launch Pad of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Chinese Mission:

The 13 day flight of Shenzhou-9 is centered around the expected docking with unmanned space module Tiangong-1 that was launched on September 29, 2011.

This module is the rudiment of China’s space station and is an experimental space laboratory, launched with the objective to carry out the rendezvous and docking test with the Shenzhou-8, that was launched in November, 2011. The Chinese see this as a key step towards gaining the experience for the construction, management and operation of a space station.

After the launch, Shenzhou-9 will be initially inserted into a parking orbit, before raising its orbital parameters to a near circular orbit with an altitude of 330 km. The spacecraft will take two days to get near Tiangong-1.

Providing everything goes according to plan, the docking is expected to take place on June 18.

Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-9 will stay docked for a period of 10 days. However, during this time, a second docking manoeuvre will take place. After another period of docking, Shenzhou-9 will return to Earth.

Preparations For launch:

On October 31, 2011 Wu Ping, spokeswoman from the Chinese space program, said the launch of Shenzhou-9 was going to be conducted by 2012. This was followed by comments from Chen Shanguang, director of the Astronaut Center of China, who added China was assessing both male and female astronauts, “to verify if humans could live in space as there was huge differences between man and woman in spite of their common generalities”.

The first female Chinese taikonauts were selected by the space program on March 10, 2010.

The launch was originally scheduled for March/April 2012, but on December 2011 a Chinese internet source revealed that the mission would take place in June 2012. at the same time that the official Xinhua news agency revealed that the Shenzhou-10 mission would also take place in 2012, citing the China National Space Administration.

With the mission preparations proceeding smoothly, China revealed that a group of nine taikonauts, including the two women, had been selected for the flight. Apart from the general training for a spaceflight, special attention was given to the simulations of the rendezvous control and docking elements of the planned mission.

On March 3, it was revealed that the launch vehicle for Shenzhou-9 had passed its testing and that was ready to be shipped to the launch site. According to Liang Xiaohong, “the rocket was designed with a higher degree of reliability and equipped with more advanced positioning software to ensure a more precise entry into orbit.”

The Shenzhou-9 spacecraft arrived at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on April 9, followed one month later by the Chang Zheng-2F/G (Y9) launch vehicle, to begin the final processing and assembly before launch. This took place from May 11 to June 6.

After the launch of Tiangong-1, the Beijing Special Engineering Design and Research Institute, the main designer of the launch system used at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, renovated and upgraded the equipment at the launch site. The new equipment and technologies dramatically increased the reliability of satellite launches and greatly shortened the launch time preparation.

The system for voice communications between the spacecraft and the ground was redesigned for this mission – and is more advanced than that used by Shenzhou-7. These improvements include a wireless signal transmission system, using optical wiring, has improved the quality of voice and image transmission.

At the end of May, the Tiangong-1 module executed the lowering of its orbit, in order to prepare for the mid-June launch window.

The processing and assembly of the three modules of Shenzhou-9 – and the preparations on its docking system – was without problem, allowing for technicians started the fuelling process of the spacecraft on May 28.

With the fuelling process completed, all the processing work was completed on June 3, allowing for the Shenzhou-9 to be transported to the launch vehicle integration building and was hoisted to the top of the launcher on June 7. The next day all the preparatory tasks were completed, and the capsule and the launch vehicle were prepared for transportation to the 921 launch pad, with this process taking place on June 9.

After arriving to the launch pad, Chinese technicians started a series of functional tests on the spacecraft, including joint tests with the selected taikonauts, the capsule, the launcher and the ground systems.

On June 12 the Shenzhou-9 completed its first full-system drill. Starting at 02:07 UTC, the countdown clock at T-4h 30m mark and all relevant systems, including the taikonauts, spacecraft, launcher, launch center and surveillance, control and communications systems, were tested, with all the tasks being coordinated by the launch control center. The drill went without a hitch, paving the way for the final pre-launch phase of launch preparations.

The 72h countdown started on June 13, followed by the final fuelling drill of the Chang Zheng-2F/G launch vehicle.

The Crew:

The selected taikonauts for the mission arrived at Jiuquan on June 8. A photograph published on June 9 allowed the identification of the six person group as Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguan, Wang Yaping, Jing Haipen, Liu Wang and Liu Yang. At this time there was no information about the crew that had been selected for the flight, but rumours pointed to the Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguan, Wang Yaping crew.

However, a few days later, the name of Liu Yang was referred to as the first Chinese women to fly in space.

The international space community have tried to determine the composition of the main crew of Shenzhou-9 for several weeks. After many speculations and deductions, China finally revealed the names of the prime crew as Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang. with the back up crew composed of Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguan and Wang Yaping. Haipeng, Wang and Liu were internally selected as the prime crew in March 2012.

Born on October 24, 1966 in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, Jing Haipeng is the Commander of Shenzhou-9. He is a fighter pilot in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, selected as a taikonaut in January 1998. Jing Haipeng first flight took place on Shenzhou-7, serving as Operator. Senior Colonel Jing Haipeng is married and has one child. He joined the PLA in 1985 and has more than 1,200 hours of flying time.

Liu Wang was born on 1970 in the Shanxi province and this is his first flight. He was selected as a taikonaut in January 1998 after joining the PLA in 1988. He has more than 1,000 hours of flying time and is now a Senior Colonel on the Air Force.

33 year old Liu Yang was born in October 1978 in Zhengzhou, Henan province. She was a pilot in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and she’s the first of the second batch of taikonauts that were selected in March, 2010 to fly in space.

Liu Yang enlisted in the PLA in 1997 and she is a veteran pilot with more than 1,680 hours of flying experience, and also being a deputy head of the flight unit, before being recruited to the Chinese space program. She now is a Major in the Air Force.

Back-up Commander Nie Haisheng was born on September 8, 1964 in Zaoyang, Hubei province. He was selected to the taikonaut detachment in January 1998 and made is first spaceflight on Shenzhou-6 in October, 2005. He is a Lieutenant Colonel in the PLAAF, married, and has a daughter.

Zhang Xiaoguan was born in 1968 in Liaoning province. He was a squadron commander in the PLAAF before being selected to taikonaut team in 1998. He accumulated more than 1,000 hours of flight time.

Wang Yaping was born on January 27, 1980 in Yantai, Shandong province. She was a cargo plane pilot before being selected to the taikonaut team in March 2010.

The Shenzhou-9 Spacecraft:

Considerable modifications – 600 in total, according to Chinese media – have been made to Shenzhou-9 for the manned docking mission, relating to automatic and manual rendezvous, docking capabilities, and to enhance the performance, safety and reliability.

The Shenzhou spacecraft was designed and developed by many of organisations participating on the Chinese human space program.

The primary contractor was China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), responsible for the overall concept of the vehicle. Qi Faren was appointed the chief designer of the Shenzhou design team in 1992, later succeeded in 2004 by Zhang Bai-Nan. Qi Faren was also the chief designer of Dongfanghong, China first satellite.

CAST was responsible for the design of the Orbital and Re-entry Module, and the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) was responsible the design of Service Module, as well as the electrical power system, propulsion system, and telemetry, tracking and communications systems.

The development of onboard applications were made by the China Academy of Science. The development of the environment control and life support system was tasked to the Institute of Space Medicine Engineering, while the Academy of Aerospace Solid Propulsion Technology was responsible for the launch escape system.

Shenzhou is based on the Russian Soyuz-TM spacecraft and can carry up to three astronauts inside its Re-Entry Module. This module provides a fully pressurised and habitable living space for all phases of the mission, but the taikonauts can also use the Orbital Module that provides additional habitable space for conducting scientific experiments.

This module is equipped with navigation, communications, flight control, thermal control, batteries, oxygen tanks, and propulsions systems.

Total mass of the spacecraft is 8,082 kg, with a length of 9.25 meters, diameter of 2.80 meters and a 17 meter span.

The Orbital Module has a length of 2.80 meters, a mass of 1,500 kg and a diameter of 2.25 meters. Is equipped with two solar panels for power generation (0.5 W) and each panel is 2.0 meters by 3.4 meters. This module is equipped with a propulsion system comprised of 16 small thrusters, in four groups.

The Re-entry Module has a length of 2.50 meters, a mass of 3,240 kg and a diameter of 2.52 meters. This module is equipped with a heat shield with a mass of 450 kg.

The Service Module has a length of 3.05 meters, a mass of 3.000 kg and a maximum diameter of 2.80 meters. Is equipped with two solar panels for power generation (1.5 W) and each panel is 2.0 meters by 7.0 meters. This module is equipped with the Shenzhou main propulsion system that consists of four high-thrust main engines and 24 smaller-thrust control engines, as well as four 230-litre propellant tanks containing a total of 1,000kg N2O4/MMH liquid propellant.

The four main engines (2.5kN) are located at the base of the spacecraft’s Service Module. The spacecraft also has eight (in four pairs) 150N pitch and yaw thrust vectors, eight (in four pairs) 5N pitch and yaw thrust vectors and eight (in four pairs) 5N roll / translation thrust vectors.

Like on Soyuz manned spacecraft, on re-entry, the orbital and service modules are separated and discarded, and then the re-entry module makes a ballistic descent through the atmosphere. Primary landing target is located in Inner Mongolia.

The launch vehicle:

Shenzhou-9 will be launched by the Long March 2F/G (Chang Zheng-2F/G), the launch vehicle usually used for manned Shenzhou program.

This launch vehicle, developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, is different from the original ‘Shenjian’ (Divine Arrow) version that was developed from the Chang Zheng-2E launch vehicle, which in turn was based on the proven flight technology of the CZ-2C Chang Zheng-2C.

For Articles on every Chinese launch over recent years:

Conceptual design of the CZ-2E launch vehicle began in 1986, and the vehicle was launched on the launch services market, following a successful test flight in July 1990.

To meet the requirements of the rendezvous and docking mission, the Chang Zheng-2F endured nearly 170 technical modifications and uses five newly developed technologies.

Other characteristics include its capability of a more precise orbit insertion accuracy. This is possible via the introduction of improved navigation systems and complex guidance system, featuring real-time input to the orbital parameters, using GPS data to achieve double redundancy. Also, more propellant is loaded on the boosters, thus increasing the burn time.

Like the CZ-2F, the CZ-2F/G Chang Zheng-2F/G is a two stage launch vehicle that uses four strap-on boosters during the first stage phase. Overall length of the CZ-2F/G is 58.0 meters (including the launch escape system) with a 3.35 meter core stage and a maximum diameter of 8.45 meters. At launch it has a 497,000 kg mass, capable of launching 8,600 kg cargo into a low Earth orbit.

For the CZ-2F launch vehicle, the LB-40 strap-on boosters have a length of 15.326 meters, diameter of 2.25 meters, a gross mass of 40,750 kg and an empty mass of 3,000 kg. Each booster is equipped with a fixed nozzle YF-20B engine that consumes UDMH/N2O4 developing 740.4 kN of sea lever thrust. Burn time is 127.26 seconds.

The L-180 first stage has a length of 28.465 meters, diameter of 3.35 meters, a gross mass of 198,830 kg and an empty mass of 12,550 kg. It is equipped with a YF-21B engine pack that consists of four YF-20B engines that consumes UDMH/N2O4 developing 2,961.6 kN of sea lever thrust. Its burn time is 160.00 seconds.

The L-90 second stage has a length of 14.223 meters, diameter of 3.35 meters, a gross mass of 91,414 kg and an empty mass of 4,955 kg. It is equipped with a YF-24B engine pack that consists of one fixed nozzle YF-22B main motor with a swivelling vernier four YF-23B engines. The engines consume UDMH/N2O4 developing 738.4 kN (main engine) and 47.07 kN (vernier) of vacuum thrust. Total burn time is 414.68 seconds (301.18 seconds burn time for the main engine).

This launch was the 149th Chinese orbital launch, the 149th launch of the Chang Zheng launch vehicle family, the 50th successful orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite launch Center, and the 12th successful orbital launch from China this year.

The Launch Site:

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, also known as the Shuang Cheng Tze launch center, was the first Chinese satellite launch center.

The site includes a Technical Centre, two Launch Complexes, Mission Command and Control Centre, Launch Control Centre, propellant fuelling systems, tracking and communication systems, gas supply systems, weather forecast systems, and logistic support systems. Jiuquan was originally used to launch scientific and recoverable satellites into medium or low earth orbits at high inclinations.

The manned program uses the South Launch Site Pad 921. This was built in the late 1990s and later added with the 603 Launch Platform for unmanned satellite launches. Apart of the launch pads, the launch complex has a technical centre where take place the preparations of the launch vehicle and spacecraft.

The technical center is composed of the launch vehicle processing and vertical assembly building, spacecraft processing buildings, solid rocket motor processing building, buildings for liquid-propellant storage and processing and the launch control center.

For the TianGong-1 launch, the launch site was equipped with an updated computer center, command monitoring systems and increased ability to adapt to changes in mission conditions, as well as the resources to handle both the launch and command duties. An integrated simulation training system for space launching has also been developed for the docking mission.

Engineers also conducted a two-month comprehensive technical check on equipment at the launch site from March to May. The safety and reliability of all the instruments have been significantly improved.

Orbital launches from Jiuquan are supervised from the Mission Command and Control Centre that is located in the Dongfeng Space City, 60 km southwest of the satellite launch center.

The umbilical tower is 75 meter-high steel structure that is designed to service the launch vehicle and spacecraft with electricity, gases and fluids, also providing facilities for pre-launch checkouts and crew entrance/emergency exit.

The tower is equipped with a loading crane, a cargo elevator, and an explosion-proof elevator for the mission crew. In time of emergency, a canvas slide escaping system is available for taikonauts to exit the launch pad. Power supply and other support equipment are located inside an underground room underneath the umbilical tower. The umbilical tower comprises a fixed structure and a pair of six-floor rotating platforms.

Once the launch vehicle arrives at the launch pad, the rotating platforms are swung around the vehicle to allow the fuelling and final checkout procedures. The umbilical tower also contains an environmentally controlled and protected area for taikonauts to enter the spacecraft. Rotating platforms are swung open one hour prior to launch. Four swing arms provide connections for electricity, gases and fluids to the launch vehicle, and are retracted few minutes before launch.

The launch vehicle is carried on a mobile launch platform from the vehicle assembly building to the launch pad. The mobile launch platform moves on a 20 meter wide rail track and carries the launch vehicle vertical stack on a maximum velocity of 25 meters/min. The platform has a length of 24.4 meters, width of 21.7 meters, and 8.34 meters height, weighing 750,000 kg. It takes 60 minutes to complete the 1,500 meter journey to the launch pad.

The first orbital launch took place on April 24, 1970 when the CZ-1 Chang Zheng-1 (CZ1-1) rocket launched the first Chinese satellite, the Dong Fang Hong-1 (04382 1970-034A).

(Images via ChinaNews.CN, CCTV, Xinhua, various Chinese media – all linked on the live thread).

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