Orbital Human Space Launch
Chinese Human Space Launch
China was one of two nations with human space launch vehicles active in 2016. After a three-year hiatus, China launched its…
China’s most recent human mission to space was in June 2013, when three taikonauts docked a capsule with the Tiangong-1 space station. Since then, China has announced plans to launch a second space station, Tiangong-2, to replace Tiangong-1. The Chinese government continued assembling and testing Tiangong-2 in 2015, intending to launch it into orbit sometime in 2016. A subsequent crewed mission, Shenzhou-11, would be launched later in 2016. The crew will dock with the Tiangong-2 and may stay in the space station as long as a month.
China continued steady development of its crewed space program in 2013 with the launch of the Shenzhou 10 mission. Shenzhou 10 carried three taikonauts into LEO and docked with the Tiangong-1 space station prototype, where taikonauts spent two weeks conducting experiments and practicing docking maneuvers between the two craft. This was the longest Chinese space mission, and it also featured the second female taikonaut. At this stage in its space program, China is developing the techniques and technologies necessary for a more permanent presence in space, and hopes to begin construction of a multi-module space station by the end of the decade.
In 2003, China became the third nation capable of human spaceflight, with the launch of the Shenzhou 5 mission. Since then, it has flown three additional missions, each one advancing Chinese spaceflight capabilities. So far, all Chinese crewed missions have used the Shenzhou spacecraft, which resembles a larger Russian Soyuz, although the Chinese space program has described the similarity as mostly cosmetic. The Shenzhou spacecraft have entered mass production, moving beyond the status of one-off experimental machines, after the design of Shenzhou 8 was finalized.
China is the only nation other than Russia to currently operate a human spaceflight system. In 2011, China placed its first modular space laboratory into orbit with the launch of the Tiangong-1 laboratory in September. The Tiangong module, whose name means “heavenly palace” in Mandarin, is about the size of a city bus. Following Tiangong-1, China launched an uncrewed Shenzhou-8 spacecraft. Following two days of maneuvers as Shenzhou-8 adjusted its orbit to meet up with Tiangong-1, the spacecraft conducted a successful, and technically challenging, automated docking procedure. This successful rendezvous and docking is a major milestone toward China’s long-term goal of establishing a permanent modular space station by the end of the decade.
In 2003, China became the third nation to achieve orbital human spaceflight. The Long March 2F vehicle and its Shenzhou capsule are similar in design and function to the Soyuz rocket and capsule configuration. In October 2008, China launched Shenzhou 7, whose three-person crew performed the first Chinese extra vehicular activity, or spacewalk. In 2006, the Chinese government updated its China’s Space Activities white paper, which lists potential activities of follow-on Shenzhou missions. These include testing docking procedures, with the eventual objective of creating a space station.
China’s Shenzhou (“Divine Vessel”) launched two taikonauts into orbit in 2005 for a mission lasting more than 115 hours. It was China’s second human launch, following the launch of one taikonaut in October 2003. China’s next human mission is expected to launch in 2007. The Shenzhou capsule bears many design similarities to Russia’s Soyuz reentry crew capsule.