Econintersect: China completed an unmanned space mission November 17 that featured two dockings of a space vehicle with an orbiting satellite. The first docking occurred on November 3, according to Reuters. The Shenzhou 8 spacecraft re-entry capsule returned to earth at a landing site in Inner Mongolia. The successful remote control of the docking with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 space module (still in orbit) represents a key step in China’s space program. GEI News has reported on this program previously. China is only the third nation to put a man in space, joining the former Soviet Union (program continued by Russia) and the U.S.From the Associated Press (via Raleigh News & Observer):
“It represents a major breakthrough for our country’s space rendezvous and docking technology program,” said Wang Zhaoyao, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office.
Pictured below is the landing craft on the ground in Inner Mongolia.
A September report from GEI News (by Sanjeev Kulkarni) described the launch of the Tiangong satellite and the planned docking rendezvous which has now been completed. The further plans for China’s space program were described at the time:
Next year China plans two more missions in 2012, at least one of which will be manned, and Chinese astronauts will attempt to board Tiangong. Reports before the launch indicated that there might be a fourth docking experiment, unmanned, before the end of this year. That was not mentioned in the post-launch reports.
The first unmanned docking maneuver will keep the visiting rocket and Tiangong docked for twelve days before decoupling for the rocket to return to earth. Details have not been given about what will transpire on the future launches. China is planning to have a fully manned permanent space station by 2020.
According to Fu Song, a professor at the School of Aerospace in Tsinghua University Fu Song, as quoted in The Guardian, says “The US is still ahead. They sent a man to the moon 40 years ago,”
As GEI News reported in July, the U.S. government has concluded its space station programs, leaving the field to governments in Europe, Russia, China and India. U.S. initiatives have shifted to private enterprise.
Since the above was written there have been reports that China might also launch a moon rover in 2012.
China has repeated statements indicating it hopes to proceed on its space program with international cooperation. These efforts have been rebuffed in the past, largely due to the positions taken by the U.S. From the Raleigh News & Observer:
The country launched an independent space station program after being rebuffed in its attempts to join the ISS, largely on objections from the United States. The U.S. is wary of the Chinese program’s military links and the sharing of technology with its chief economic and political rival.
Despite that setback, China has refused to rule out future participation in the ISS, a willingness Wang reiterated Friday, and says its craft could dock with the ISS and spacecraft of other nations with only minor adjustments.
Wang said none of the eight Shenzhou missions have had direct military application, but conceded that the space program included many technologies such as communications satellites that could also be utilized by the military. Such so-called dual-use technologies are a common feature of the American and other space programs.
As a major player in science, China needs to independently master space technologies, Wang said, but he added that “independent development does not mean isolated development.”
“China stands ready to carry out exchanges and cooperation with other countries in this field,” he said.
Already, China has had limited but fruitful engagement in space cooperation with Russia, Germany, France and other nations, Wang said. He said the Shenzhou 8 landing allowed the recovery of 17 biological experiments carried out with Germany in the docking vehicle.