June 10, 2013
Chinese Shenzhou 10 Manned Spacecraft Ready For Tuesday Launch
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Chinese officials have announced the upcoming launch of the country´s next manned space flight — which is set for Tuesday evening, local time.
The Shenzhou 10, or “Heavenly Vessel,” spacecraft is expected to launch from a remote site in the Chinese Gobi desert according to Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's manned space program.
After entering into orbit the craft is expected to dock with the Tiangong 1, or “Heavenly Palace,” China´s orbiting space laboratory module. Sent to space in September 2011, Tiangong 1 has entered a docking orbit in order to receive the incoming craft. The module has been previously visited by Shenzhou 8 and Shenzhou 9 spaceships, respectively in 2011 and 2012.
While inside the orbiter, the Shenzhou 10 crew of two male and one female astronauts are expected to conduct experiments, test the module´s systems and broadcast a series of lectures to students back on Earth.
"China is in space for the long haul. The US ignoring that and refusing to work with China will neither stop them nor slow them down," Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on the Chinese space program at the US Naval War College, told the Associated Press.
Taking a page out of NASA´s book, the Chinese agency´s lecture series is the biggest effort the program has made to bring space exploration into the everyday lives of typical Chinese people. NASA´s outreach programs are designed to inspire student interest in space exploration and promote the space agency with respect to fund-raising or budgetary concerns.
The upcoming launch also represents the 10th anniversary of manned space flight for the world´s most populous country. The space program has mostly forgone breaking new ground in space exploration and been focused primarily on replicating American achievements.
Although China´s space program hasn´t been seen as groundbreaking, it has progressed with increasing speed through each milestone as many of the large problems facing earlier efforts now have known solutions.
"They don't have to reinvent the basic technologies for spaceflight," explained Morris Jones, an Australian writer and space analyst who monitors the Chinese program.
Like similar agencies in the US, Russia, and Europe, the Chinese space program has brought the country international esteem, spurred interest in science and engineering programs, and provided an array of commercial and military benefits, Johnson-Freese said.
The upcoming launch marks the Chinese agency´s shift toward targeting to launching a bigger, more permanent orbiting space station, Tiangong 2. With Shenzhou 10, the agency has moved away from experimental flights and toward regular shuttle missions.
Expected to weigh about 60 tons, Tiangong 2 will be about one-sixth the size of the 16-nation International Space Station. Political differences with the US kept the Chinese from participating in the ISS program.
To realize the vision of a more permanent space station, China´s space agency is currently focused on developing its Long March 5 rocket, which it will need to launch the Tiangong 2, Charles Vick, an expert on the Chinese and Soviet space programs at GlobalSecurity.org, told the AP.
"The focus is now shifting from the near-term to those future systems," Vick said. "China's space program has been a very deliberately focused effort that focuses on specific science and technology goals."