Human Space Launch
Orbital Human Space Launch
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.
Russia’s Soyuz is the most frequently launched human-rated vehicle. The Soyuz typically performs five to six missions per year at regular intervals to ferry crew and cargo to the ISS. In the period between retirement of the Space Shuttle and introduction of a new U.S. human-rated launch system, the Soyuz is expected to be the only vehicle able to transport crew members to the space station. Since 2001, the Soyuz has also been used six times to transport private spaceflight participants to and from the ISS under a partnership with the space exploration company, Space Adventures.
NASA plans to retire the Space Shuttle in 2010, though the agency has considered extending the vehicle’s life to support continued operation of the ISS. ## shuttle missions took place in 2008, all devoted to ISS assembly.
The Clipper (Kliper) vehicle, under design by Russia’s Energia, has not yet found a customer. Clipper may become a follow-on to the Soyuz vehicle, and has attracted interest from the European Space Agency (ESA) for ISS access. In 2006, Anatoly Perminov, the director of Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), said the agency planned to start construction of the vehicle in 2012.
NASA announced SpaceX and Rocketplane Kistler as the winners of the COTS competition in August 2006. The goal of the competition is to develop commercial delivery services for the International Space Station (ISS), distributing research and development funds to be combined with private capital.
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.
Russia’s Soyuz has been the workhorse of Roscosmos, having been in production for more than 40 years. The vehicle’s separated reentry capsule and laboratory module optimize space with a minimum of weight. In 2005, Soyuz took its third space tourist, Gregory Olsen, to the ISS. Currently, the vehicle is used to rotate the crew of the ISS, (a service for which NASA pays), launching to the station twice in 2005.
The space shuttle returned to flight in 2005, ending a two year hiatus that followed the Columbia tragedy. Discovery’s STS-114 crew tested new safety measures and delivered supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Digital cameras installed for the first time on a shuttle flight captured a chunk of foam shed from the external fuel tank.