China launches three person crew on Shenzhou-10

by Rui C. Barbosa

The Chinese have launched their fifth crewed space mission on Tuesday via the Shenzhou-10 mission. The launch of the Long March 2F/G rocket was on schedule at 09:38 UTC, taking place from Pad 921 at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center’s LC43 Launch Complex.


This new space chapter for the Chinese represents the final occupation of the Tiangong-1 space module and the launch of the second female “yu hang yuan” – the Chinese term for astronaut, as opposed to the more commonly used “taikonaut”.

The three member crew comprises of part of Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping.

The 15 day mission will be highlighted by the docking to the Tiangong-1 unmanned space module, which was launched on September 29, 2011.

The experimental space laboratory was involved with the rendezvous and docking test with Shenzhou-8 in November, 2011 – as well as testing the technologies for the future construction, management and operation of a space station.

Should the mission go to plan, Shenzhou-10 should dock with Tiangong-1 on June 13. The two spacecraft will remain docked for a period of 12 days which will include a second re-docking test, after which Shenzhou-10 will return to Earth on June 26.

Preparations For Launch:

Following the launch of Tiangong-1, Chinese space officials noted the space module would be visited by three Shenzhou spacecrafts, during one unmanned and two manned missions.

Shenzhou-8The Shenzhou-8 unmanned mission was eventually launched on October 31, 2011, automatically docking for the first time on November 3 and then again on November 14, before returning to Earth on November 17.

The successes paved the way for the crewed Shenzhou-9 mission, which was launched on June 16, 2012, with a crew comprising of Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang – the first female taikonaut.

Shenzhou-9 executed the first crewed docking – in automatic mode – with Tiangong-1 on June 18.

After a six day stay on the orbital module, the crew entered Shenzhou-9 on June 24 and separated from the vehicle, redocking some minutes later in manual mode. After a second stay on board Tiangong-1, the three member crew returned to Earth on June 29, 2012.

During the Shenzhou-9 mission the Party secretary of CALT, Liang Xiaohong, noted Shenzhou-10 was ready to launch at any time. It was then reported the mission would take place at the end of 2012 or early 2013, with a duration of around 20 days.

Tiangong-1In middle November Tiangong-1’s orbit was raised in twice in two days. With this, observers of the Chinese space program conclude that Shenzhou-10 mission would only take place in 2013.

During a conference in Shanghai in October, Yang Liwei, the first Chinese taikonaut noted that the three person crew of Shenzhou.10 would mainly be composed of spaceflight veterans and that a female member was not ruled out. Also, the final choice on the prime crew had yet to be made and that selection would be made in early 2013.

Shortly after the Shanghai conference, Xinhua news agency reported that Chinese astronauts were training in manual space docking techniques and receiving physical training to prepare for the next mission of the country’s manned space program.

China’s Manned Space Engineering Office vice-director Niu Hongguang then confirmed Shenzhou-10 was going to be launched in early June 2013 on a 15 day mission and would be manned by a crew of three probably composed by two man and a woman. The mission would have back-up launch windows in July and August.

On February 18 CALT revealed that the Long March 2F/G launch vehicle had completed the assembly and the factory testing phases, followed in March by the news Shenzhou-10 had passed its system review. Launch vehicle and spacecraft underwent integration processing on April 10 – with the electrical testing of the spacecraft ranging from April 16 to May 6.

The Yuanwang-III and Yuanwang-VI tracking ships left home port on April 16 as part of the preparations for the launch, while the launch vehicle departed the Beijing plant on April 29 by train, arriving to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on May 2.

The Launch VehicleOn May 9, the assembly of the CZ-2F launch vehicle began, followed by the May 18 Launch Readiness Review (LRR). The spaceccraft was fuelled on May 23. Around this time, the landing site recovery team was already stationed on the Mongolian grasslands for a full dress rehearsal simulation.

On May 21, Tiangong-1’s orbit was lowered for the final time before the mission, while a rescue drill of the coast of Shanghai that simulated an emergency water landing for Shenzhou.

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 dramatically increased the reliability of satellite launches and greatly shortened the launch time preparation.

On June 2, the fairing with the Shenzhou-10 was transported to the launcher assembly and integration building for stacking on the rocket’s third stage, with the launch vehicle rolled out to the pad on the morning of June 3.

Once at the pad, Chinese technicians started a series of functional tests on the spacecraft, along with their version of the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT), which was classed as a success.

The 72 hour countdown began on June 7.

The crew:

China finally revealed the names of the prime crew as Nie Haisheng (Commander), Zhang Xiaoguan (Operator) and Wang Yaping (Laboratory Assistant) – the three taikonauts that had served as the back-up crew for Shenzhou-9. The Chinese did not reveal the back-up crew for this mission, but unofficial Chinese sources point to Liu Boming (Commander), Panzhan Chun (Operator) and Deng Qingming (Laboratory Assistant).

The CrewBorn on October 13, 1964 in Zaoyang, Yangdang Hubei province, Nie Haisheng is the Commander of Shenzhou-10. He is a fighter pilot in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), selected to taikonaut in January 1998.

On his PLAAF training, Nie Haisheng assumed the tasks of Flight Squadron Commander, Deputy Commander and Master Navigator, graduating in 1987. He reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on the PLAAF.

In 1998, he was selected for the Chinese spaceflight program and was one of three candidates selected for the final training group for the first Chinese manned spaceflight, Shenzhou-5. Eventually, Yang Liwei was selected to be the first Chinese in space, while Zhai Zhigang was his back-up and Nie Haisheng the second back-up.

Nir Haisheng first space flight took place between October 12 and 16, 2005. Together with Fei Junlong, Nie Haisheng manned the Shenzhou-6 on the first two person flight of the Shenzhou capsule in a mission that lasted four days, 19 hours, 32 minutes and 46 seconds.

He is married to Nie Jielin and they have a daughter.

Debut taikonaut Zhang Xiaoguang was born on May 1966 in the Liaoning province. He was selected as a taikonaut in January 1998 after joining the PLAAF where he was a Squadron Commander, having accumulated more than 1,000 hours of flight time.

Wang YapingBorn on January 27, 1980 in Yantai, Shandong province, Wang Yaping is the second Chinese woman to fly in space.

She was a cargo plane pilot before being selected to the taikonaut team in March 2010. She was a Captain in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.

Wang Yaping was an Air Force cadet at the age of 17 and became part of the seventh batch of female pilots to fly four kinds of aircraft.

She participated in several readiness exercises such as the Wenchuan earthquake relief operations, and the “cloud extinction operations” during the Beijing Olympics to create less rain. In May 2009 she passed the selection process to become China’s first female astronaut.

The Shenzhou-10 Spacecraft:

Considerable modifications were made to the previous Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 for the crewed docking mission, mainly 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.

The SpacecraftCAST 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 SpacecraftThe Orbital Module has a length of 2.80 meters, a mass of 1,500 kg and a diameter of 2.25 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-10 was 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.

Long MarchTo 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 Long MarchThe L-180 first stage has a length of 28.465 meters, a 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 will be the 177th successful Chinese orbital launch, the 177th launch of the Chang Zheng launch vehicle family, the 58th orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite launch Center, and the third 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.

Vehicle RolloutThe 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.

Launch VehicleThe 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 Рall linked on the live thread).

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