China to launch Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft on Oct. 17

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JIUQUAN, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) — The Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft will be launched at 7:30 a.m. Monday Beijing Time, a spokesperson from China’s manned space program said Sunday.

The spaceship will transport two male astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong into space, said Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office, at a press conference at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The mission will be carried out with a Long March-2F carrier rocket, Wu said.

The spacecraft will dock with orbiting space lab Tiangong-2 within two days, and the astronauts will stay in the space lab for 30 days, she said.

After that, Shenzhou-11 will undock from Tiangong-2 and return to Earth within one day, Wu said.

The mission aims to transport personnel and materials between Earth and Tiangong-2, and examine rendezvous, docking and return processes.

During the mission, the spacecraft will be a module that when docked with Tiangong-2 will form a complex. The feasibility of the space complex to support astronauts’ life, work and flight missions will be tested throughout the mission, Wu said.

Other objectives include aerospace medical experiments, space science experiments and in-orbit maintenance with human participation, as well as other activities, she added.

The two astronauts will undertake ultrasound tests during space travel for the first time, cultivate plants in space, and test the three winners of an experiment design competition run in Hong Kong for secondary school students.

Several technical alterations have been made to Shenzhou-11, though its main functions and technical parameters are basically the same as Shenzhou-10, Wu said.

To meet the needs of this mission, the orbit control strategy and flight procedures have been adjusted to adapt Shenzhou-11 to the different rendezvous, docking and return orbit from 343 kilometers to 393 kilometers from Earth.

The cargo loading layout has also been adjusted for the mission.

To further improve the spacecraft’s reliability and astronauts’ safety, wide-beam relay telecommunications devices have been installed, which will significantly expand the scope of telemetry, tracking and control, as well as improve space-ground communication when the position of the spacecraft changes rapidly.

To verify future processes and meet the demand for prolonging the service life of rendezvous, telemetry and tracking devices for future space stations, such devices in Shenzhou-11 have been upgraded, according to Wu.

Certain technical alterations have also been made to the carrier rocket, she said.

Tiangong-2 has been maneuvered into a near circular orbit 393 kilometers from Earth, where it will rendezvous and dock with Shenzhou-11, Wu said, adding that Tiangong-2 is now “ready.”

Launched on Sept. 15, Tiangong-2 has been orbiting for little more than one month, and remained “in a good condition,” with all subsystems and equipment operating as expected, Wu said.

Since Tiangong-2 entered orbit, on Sept. 22, its payload equipment has successfully completed self-inspections, initial configuration processes and experiments. All were carried out as planned and produced the desired results.

“According to in-orbit tests and experimental data, Tiangong-2’s ‘report card’ is satisfactory,” Wu said.

Since China initiated its manned space program, she said, it has signed a number of cooperation deals with space agencies of many countries and international organizations.

China will continue to actively pursue international exchanges and cooperation in this regard and share its knowledge and experience with other countries, she added.

The upcoming mission will be the third spaceflight, following his Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008 and Shenzhou-9 mission in 2012, for Jing Haipeng, 50, who was named commander of the two-member crew.

“[For this mission] we have improved our ability to deal with emergencies, first aid and space experiments,” Jing told reporters ahead of Monday’s launch.

Born in central China’s Henan Province in 1978, this will be the first time Chen Dong has been a crew member of China’s manned spacecraft.

“First of all, I’m pilot, but my role will also see me being an engineer, a scientist, a cleaner and a farmer,” Chen said, describing his myriad of responsibilities as a taikonaut.

During the mission, 16 experiments designed by China’s astronaut system will be conducted to verify the system and processes that will support extended periods onboard the space station in the future, according to Huang Weifen, deputy chief designer of the astronaut system with the Astronaut Center of China.

The two astronauts will test some experiments that would not seem out of place in a science fiction movie, such as a brain-computer interface, which they will control with their minds.

As humans will work with robots during future space mission, Huang said key boards, mouses or handles will become obsolete, with brain or eye control systems taking their place.

The astronauts will be in a weightless, enclosed environment, this could affect their psychological and physiological conditions. “That’s why we need to explore the feasibility of such new systems,” Huang said.

The study of space plant cultivation in a micro-gravity environment will inform future approaches to cultivation in space stations and in bases on the moon or Mars, Huang said.

The scheduled experiments also include tests gauging the influence of in-orbit flight on the astronauts’ olfactory and cardiovascular functions.

“Shenzhou-11 is a new beginning. It marks the imminent end of the exploratory stage of China’s manned space program,” said Zhang Yulin, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s manned space program.

With the establishment of its own space station, which is expected around 2020, China will carry out manned space missions on a regular basis, with spacecraft launched several times a year, instead of once every several years, said Zhang, also deputy chief of the armament development department of the Central Military Commission.

Besides astronauts, engineers and even tourists will then, hopefully, go to space, Zhang added.

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