Shenzhou-10 Spacecraft Successfully Docks With Chinese Space Station
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The docking procedure was performed around 1 pm Beijing time via automated controls. After the Shenzhou-10 crew completed pressurization checks, they entered the orbiter and traded their protective space suits for blue jumpsuits, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The crew, which includes China’s second woman in space, Wang Yaping, is expected to spend 12 days aboard Tiangong-1 performing various experiments and presenting video lectures to students on the ground back in China. Wang is expected to hold at least one of these lectures, demonstrating the dynamics of the microgravity environment of space.
The crew is also scheduled to attempt a manual docking procedure during their time in orbit. To perform the manual docking, the crew will return to the Shenzhou-10 capsule and disengage from Tiangong-1 before flying around the orbiter and then re-docking. The maneuver is planned for June 20, about five days before the expected trip home.
Tiangong-1 has been orbiting the Earth for almost two years and has been visited by two previous Chinese missions, Shenzhou-8 and Shenzhou-9. These three visits have reportedly used up all of the orbiter´s on-board resources — meaning it cannot support any future visits from humans.
After the Shenzhou-10 mission, Tiangong-1 will be pitched in the atmosphere where it is expected to burn up over the Pacific Ocean. Chinese officials have yet to announce a disposal date for the orbiter.
The latest Shenzhou mission signifies the Chinese space agency´s transition toward launching a bigger, more enduring space station, Tiangong-2, by marking the start of regular shuttle missions and the end of experimental test flights.
Construction of Tiangong-2 is likely to begin within the next couple years. Expected to weigh about 60 tons, it is designed to be a more ambitious station and many experts predict it will pave the way for an even bigger Chinese space station to be launched at the end of the decade.
While bigger than Tiangong-1, the newer space station will be about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station, which the Chinese have been shut out of due to political differences with the US.
In pursuit of larger space stations, China´s space agency is currently developing its Long March 5 rocket that is designed to carry a bigger payload than its current Long March 2F rocket.
The latest Shenzhou flight is the fifth manned mission in a the past ten years as the Chinese have been taking methodical steps to catch up with the US, Russian, and the European Union space programs.
Although the Asian country´s space program isn´t viewed as groundbreaking, it has progressed at an increasing rate as many of the large problems facing earlier space programs now have known solutions.
Beijing presents the billion-dollar space program as a symbol of China´s global stature and technical know-how, as the country attempts to transform itself from developing nation to global superpower.