Following weeks of secrecy, China has launched its sixth crewed space mission on Sunday. The launch of Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong on Shenzhou-11 took place at 23:30 UTC using the Long March 2F/G (Y11) rocket, with liftoff taking place from Pad 921 at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center’s LC43 Launch Complex.
Chinese Crew Launch:
The main objective of the mission is the docking with the Tiangong-2 orbital module.
After a successful docking, the crew will enter its new orbital house for a residency of 30 days, allowing for a full mission duration of 33 days.
The new orbital station is equipped with all the means to provide a comfortable environment for the crew, including considerations for homely aspects, such as – as described by the Chinese media “sound and light, cabin decoration and noise processing.”
Tiangong-2 also provides a number of fitness facilities for exercise, including cycling and running equipment, so as to maintain muscle function.
Experiments onboard include ultrasound inspection experiments, cardiopulmonary function, samples and plant cultivation, as well as orbital repair experiments.
For communications, the two man in orbit will use Bluetooth headsets and audio and video devices so that they can communicate with their families and watch TV and music programs transmitted from the ground.
According to Zhu Zongpeng, chief designer of China’s space lab Tiangong-2, the Shenzhou-11 mission will be the only manned mission to the new orbital laboratory.
The two man crew is composed of Commander Jing Haipeng and Pilot Chen Dong.
Born on October 24, 1966 in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, Jing Haipeng was 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 (25 to 28 September, 2008), serving as Operator, with the second flight taking place on Shenzhou-9 (16 to 29 June, 2012), serving as Commander and boarding the Tiangong-1 space module.
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. He’s gained a total space experience of 15 days 11 hours and 53 seconds.
Chen Dong was born on December 1978 and joined the army in August 1997. He served as the captain of a certain regiment of the air force and has more than 1,500 hours of flying time.
He was named an air force pilot. In May 2010, Chen Dong was selected to the taikonauts corps from the second selection group.
Missions to the new Tiangong-2 orbital module, are the final step before China embarks on the long march to physically build its modular space station, the Tiangong project.
Tiangong-2 is the “form a connecting link between the past and the future in China’s space lab research and development”, according to Zhu Zongpeng.
The original plan was for Tiangong-2 to be launched at the end of 2013 or early in 2014. However, following the successful flights to Tiangong-1, China changed the original roadmap.
That path involved the new orbital module being used to test technologies that will be essential to the future Tiangong modular space station, the first module of which – the Tianhe Space Station Core Module – will be launched in 2018.
With the new orbital module secure in its operational orbit after launch on September 15, Chinese engineers started to prepare the Long March-2F/G that would be used for the next manned mission.
The Long March-2F/G that launched Shenzhou-11 departed its Beijing plant by train bound for Jiuquan on August 3, arriving at the old Chinese spaceport on August 6. The Shenzhou-11 space capsule arrived at Jiuquan via a plane ride on August 13.
After arriving at Jiuquan, both the launcher components and the capsule components were checked and launch preparations began.
At the end of April, two images from the Shenzhou-11 launch simulation suggested that Shenzhou 11 would be launched on October 17.
After the launch of Tiangong-2, the Chinese media and Chinese authorities were completely silent about the Shenzhou-11 launch preparations. Then, on October 10 some Chinese sources reported that the Long March-2F/G rocket with the Shenzhou-11 on top was transported to its launch pad on remote Jiuquan.
Once at the pad, Chinese technicians started a series of functional tests on the spacecraft, along with their version of the Shuttle-style Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT), which was classed as a success.
The 72 hour countdown began on October 13 and the four taikonauts selected for the mission (main and backup crew) arrived at Jiuquan the previous day.
What the taikonauts will do on Tiangong-2:
Tiangong-2 will be used to conduct space science experiments on a relatively large scale compared to China’s previous efforts.
The new station is equipped with a new robotic arm that can be manual or automatically operated from the ground. It is expected that the taikonauts on TG-2 will operate the robotic arm, moving some experimental packages located in external positions on the new lab.
The orbital module was launched with 14 types of experiments that focus on cutting-edge technologies such as space materials science and space life science. The taikonauts will take part is some of the experiments, namely the ones related to space life sciences and with the human body adaptation to a long orbital permanency.
The station is equipped with a gamma-ray detector (POLAR), a space-Earth quantum key distribution and laser communications experiment to be used in conjunction with the Mozi ‘Quantum Science Satellite’ and a liquid bridge thermocapillary convection experiment and a space materials experiment.
Also included is a stereoscopic microwave altimeter, a space plant growth experiment, and a multi-angle wide-spectral imager and multi-spectral limb imaging spectrometer. Onboard TG-2 there will also be the world’s first-ever in-space cold atomic fountain clock.
Also onboard are a range of payloads developed by the National Space Science Centre (NSSC) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) with collaboration from the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
POLAR’s development included PSI in Switzerland, who built all electronics except power supplies and the fast logic. The collaboration also includes NCBJ from Poland.
This is the POLAR project, Gamma Ray Burst hard X-ray polarimeter. POLAR will use the Compton Scattering Effect to measure the polarization of incoming photons. POLAR makes no attempt to do a precise localization of the GRB in the sky. This greatly simplifies the design of the detector. Currently, special purpose satellites like SWIFT can provide this information immediately.
Many future satellites will have similar capabilities. To complement this, POLAR can roughly localize strong GRBs independently and with sufficient precision for a stand-alone measurement.
The Shenzhou-11 Spacecraft:
Considerable modifications were made to the previous Shenzhou spacecraft for the crewed docking missions, 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 organizations participating in 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 pressurized 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, a 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. 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-11 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.
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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. The 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, a 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, 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, a 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 swiveling 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 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.
Following ignition of the four engines of the first stage together with the four strap-on boosters, the Long March-2F/G launch vehicle lifted off from the pad.
At T+20, the rocket initiated a pitch, roll and yaw maneuver, attaining the proper launch azimuth and ascent profile. This maneuver minimizes the aerodynamics loads on the launcher.
At T+62 seconds the rocket reached Mach 1 and at T+75 seconds the launcher passed through the maximum dynamic pressure.
At T+121 seconds the jettisoning of the escape emergency system occurred. The four strap-on boosters separated at 2 minutes 34 seconds into the flight and seven seconds later the four engines of the first stage shutdown, initiating the process for separation and second stage ignition.
The payload fairing separated at T+3 minutes 28 seconds. No longer needed, the separation of the two halves of the payload fairing exposed the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft.
The completion of the second stage burn was marked at T+7 minutes 41 seconds. Four vernier engines were still firing at this time, steering the launcher and its manned cargo for another 115 seconds.
The end of the burn of the four verniers occurs at T+9 minutes and 36 seconds. Spacecraft separation occurred at 9 minutes 44 seconds. Solar array deployment took place 3 minutes after spacecraft separation. Shenzhou-11 will then maneuver setting itself on course for a two day ride to Tiangong-2.
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 center for 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 on September 29, 2011, 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.
Back then, 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, gasses 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 fueling 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, gasses 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, a 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 Long March-1 (Chang Zheng-1) rocket launched the first Chinese satellite, the Dongfanghong-1 (04382 1970-034A).
(Images via CNSA, CCTV and Chinese media).