Three person crew of China’s Shenzhou-10 return to Earth

The Chinese Shenzhou-10 spacecraft has returned its three member crew safely back to Earth following a 15 day mission in space, most of which involved docked operations with the Tiangong-1 space module. While the mission further refined rendezvous and docking techniques, crewmember Wang Yaping also provided a space lecture to thousands of Chinese school children.

Shenzhou-10: *Click here for full mission coverage from launch to landing*

The crew – comprised of Nie Haisheng (Commander), Zhang Xiaoguan (Operator) and Wang Yaping (Laboratory Assistant) – launched via the Long March 2/FG on June 10 from Pad 921 at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center’s LC43 Launch Complex.

Their Shenzhou-10 spacecraft then took two days to transition into rendezvous and docking operations with Tiangong-1 space module, which was to become their port of call for the majority of the mission.

With two of the taikonauts sleeping in the module, while the third slept onboard the Shenzhou-10, one of the docked mission highlights was provided by Wang Yaping on June 30.

Chinese Space LectureHer space lecture was beamed live to over 80.000 schools that participated in this event. Chinese State media showed parts of the lecture, which allowed some students to take the opportunity to ask questions to the taikonauts on board Tiangong-1.

Speaking to students via live video, Ms Wang used spinning tops, a ball, water and a fellow astronaut to explain physics in micro-gravity.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also made a video call to the three taikonauts, mainly to congratulate them on what was one of the primary mission objectives, another manual re-docking between a Shenzhou spacecraft and the Tiangong-1 – a key learning curve that is part of China’s wider Space Station ambitions.

Shenzhou-10 redockingThe redocking took place on June 23, initiated as Shenzhou-10 first undocked, prior to backing away to 140 meters from the orbital module. About 90 minutes later, the green light was provided for a manually-controlled approach. No live TV coverage was provided for this event, unlike the previous mission.

Re-Docking took place at 02:00 UTC, with the two vehicles hard mated seven minutes later. The three taikonauts then re-entered Tiangong-1 at 05:09 UTC.

With their docked mission complete, hatch closure for the return to Earth took place at 21:07 UTC on June 25. Before that took place, the crew thanked all the people who made their mission possible.

The crew then entrusted their safe return inside the Soyuz-like spacecraft that consists of the Orbital Module – which has a length of 2.80 meters, a mass of 1,500 kg and a diameter of 2.25 meters.

Shenzhou-10 SpacecraftThe Service Module – which 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.

The module was 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 used 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. It conducted the deorbit burn without issue.

Shenzhou-10 returnBoth the SM and the OM separated – just like Soyuz – following the deorbit burn, allowing for the re-entry module to make the plunge towards Entry Interface.

The reentry module – which has a length of 2.50 meters, a mass of 3,240 kg and a diameter of 2.52 meters – is equipped with a heat shield with a mass of 450 kg. It also provided its critical role without issue.

Live coverage on Chinese State TV showed what appeared to be a nominal entry profile, followed by parachute deploy as advertised.

The Shenzhou-10 successfully landed in Inner Mongolia at 00:07 UTC on Wednesday, which was followed by the extraction of the crew.

(Images via CCTV)

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