China’s Space Programme: Past Projects
The China Manned Space Programme reached a major milestone on 14 October 2003, when the 38-year-old former fighter pilot Lt. Col. Yang Liwei became the first Chinese astronaut to have flown in Earth orbit aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft. The successful mission also made China the third country in the world, after Russia and the United States, to possess the capability of sending human into space independently.
The Shenzhou 6 mission was the sixth flight of the Shenzhou manned capsule, and the second manned mission. The purposes of the mission were to demonstrate the human space flight technology and test the design of the spacecraft and ground support systems. The mission was also the last mission of Phase-I of the China Manned Space Programme (Project 921), showing that China had grasped the technology to put humans into Earth orbit and return them to Earth safely.
Shenzhou 7 was the third manned space mission conducted by China. The main objective of the mission was to demonstrate China’s first extra-vehicular activity (EVA). Secondary objectives included launching a macro-satellite Banxing 1 (BX-1) from the spacecraft to perform a formation flight, and to test the voice and data communication with the ground via the Tianlian 1 (TL-1) tracking and data relay satellite (TDRS). It was also the first time that the Shenzhou vehicle carried three astronauts to orbit. The programme was approved in December 2004, but the launch did not take place until September 2008, almost a year behind the original schedule.
Shenzhou 9 was the ninth flight mission of the Shenzhou spacecraft, and the fourth crewed mission of China’s manned space programme (Project 921). The objective of the mission was to perfect the orbital rendezvous docking technique, using both automated and manual docking methods. The crew of three astronauts, including China’s first female astronaut Liu Yang, also spent nearly 10 days onboard the Tiangong 1 space module to experience orbital living and working.
Shenzhou 10 was China’s fifth manned space flight mission and the tenth flight of the Shenzhou vehicle. It was the last of the three Shenzhou flight missions intended for the test of the rendezvous and docking technique with the Tiangong 1 space laboratory. The mission lasted for 15 days, a new record in duration in the history of China’s manned space programme.
Chinese man-tended space laboratory, also known as “Target Vehicle”. Intended serve as a ‘target vehicle’ for the perfection of orbital rendezvous and docking techniques, as well as to demonstrate short-term orbital living. A total of three expeditions, including an unmanned and two manned missions, were made to the station between November 2011 and March 2013. Lost communication contact with ground in February 2016. Expected to deorbit in late 2017.
Chang’e 1 was the first Chinese-made spacecraft to fly beyond the Earth orbit. The spacecraft was required to be able to operate in both Earth and lunar orbital environments, with the capabilities of long-distance communications and telemetry, multiple orbital manoeuvres, high-precision stabilisation, and thermal controls to withstand extreme temperatures.
Chang’e 2 was originally built as a backup to Chang’e 1. After the success of the Chang’e 1 mission, Chang’e 2 was turned into a precursor for the subsequent lunar landing mission to test the integrity of the new technologies to be used on Chang’e 3, including direct injection of the spacecraft onto the lunar-transfer path and X-band telemetry. The spacecraft also carried out detailed survey of the potential landing spots and demonstrated the flight in a 100 x 15 km lunar orbit.
The second phase of the China Lunar Exploration Programme (CLEP) saw a robotic probe Chang’e 3 soft-landing on the Moon, the first in nearly three decades since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. The Chang’e 3 mission was designed to demonstrate and perfect a range of new technologies, including lunar soft-landing, lunar surface exploring, lunar-night survival, and deep-space communications, which are critical for subsequent lunar exploration missions. Its primary goal was to soft-land the unmanned spacecraft on the Moon, and to deploy a lunar rover to inspect the areas surrounding the landing spot.