Other name: SZ-7. Type: Manned spaceflight. Crew size: 3. Programme: Project 921-II. Agency: CMSA. Spacecraft family: Shenzhou. Orbit: LEO. Launch site: Jiuquan. Launch complex: Pad 921 (SLS1). Launch vehicle: CZ-2F (Y7). Launch date: 2008-09-25. Lift-off time: 21:10:04 CST. Landing: 2008-09-28 17:38 CST. Duration: 2 days 20 hours 27 minutes. Orbits: 45.
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.
The Shenzhou 7 mission was crewed by Zhai Zhigang (commander and EVA astronaut), Liu Boming (flight engineer and orbital module astronaut), and Jing Haipeng (flight engineer). The backup crew was Chen Quan (Commander), Fei Julong, and Nie Haisheng.
The forward orbital module of the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft had a large cylindrical hatch, which allowed the space-walking astronauts to leave and return to the spacecraft. It also accommodated the two EVA spacesuits used by the space-walking astronauts. The orbital module lacked the pair of smaller solar panels and additional scientific experiment payload found on the spacecraft in previous Shenzhou missions.
Engineering development of the spacecraft began in 2005, and the spacecraft vehicle was completed in September 2007. The vehicle underwent 1,200 hours of electrical testing in late 2007, and the flight simulation with three crew teams was completed by January 2008. Structural testing of the spacecraft was completed in February 2008. The joint flight simulation involving both mission crew and ground crews was conducted in April 2008.
The Shenzhou 7 vehicle was airlifted to the Jiuquan launch centre on 10 July and the CZ-2F (Y7) launch vehicle arrived at the launch centre via railway on 6 August. The fuelling of the spacecraft vehicle was completed on 6 September, and the capsule was mated with the launch vehicle on 18 September. On 20 September, the launch vehicle and spacecraft stack was rolled out to the launch pad.
The Shenzhou 7 spacecraft carrying three astronauts was launched atop the CZ-2F (Y7) launcher from Pad 921 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) on 25 September 2008 at 21:10:04 CST (13:10:04 GMT). The entire launch was broadcasted on live television.
On 26 September at 02:20 GMT, Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming began to assemble the two EVA spacesuits and carried out safety checks inside the orbital module. The operation lasted about 10 hours and the spacesuits were ready at 14:00 GMT.
At around 04:28 GMT on 27 September, Zhai and Liu entered the orbital module to begin the preparation for the EVA, while Jing Haipeng remained in the re-entry module to monitor the flight of the spacecraft. At this point the hatch between the orbital module and re-entry module was sealed.
At 06:43 GMT, the ground control confirmed that Zhai was the EVA astronaut and Liu the supporting astronaut. At 07:10 GMT, the two astronauts in the orbital module helped each other to put on the spacesuits and carried out safety checks. At 07:29 GMT, the two astronauts reported that they had put on the suits. At 07:39 GMT, the two astronauts began to depressurise the orbital module. By 08:28, the pressure within the orbital module was reduced to 2,000Pa, and the oxygen and power supplies on the spacesuits switched to the autonomous working mode.
The EVA operation began at 08:31 GMT (16:31 Beijing Time). Some minor problems were experienced with the exterior hatch of the orbital module, but did not cause any serious issue. The hatch was finally opened at 08:40 GMT. Zhai wearing the indigenous Feitian EVA spacesuit climbed out of the orbital module at 08:44 GMT and reported to ground control that he was feeling fine.
The whole EVA operation lasted 25 minutes 23 seconds. During this time, Zhai waved a PRC national flag to the external camera onboard the spacecraft while making a short speech via his microphone in the spacesuit. Then he recovered samples of solid lubricant and photovoltaic cells placed outside the orbital module. Liu wearing a Russian Orlan spacesuit remained inside the orbital module most of the time, but also climbed half out of the orbital module to assist Zhai.
At 09:03 GMT, Zhai returned to the orbital module and closed the hatch. At 09:11 GMT, Zhai reported that the hatch was fully sealed and pressurising of the module began. The pressure within the orbital module resumed the normal level at 10:07 GMT, at which point the two astronauts returned to the re-entry capsule.
At 11:24 GMT on 27 September, the Shenzhou 7 crew carried out its second mission by launching the Banxing 1 micro satellite carried on top of the orbital module. Shortly after, the crew carried out the third mission of testing the voice and data communications with ground control via the Tianlian 1 data relay satellite.
At around 07:00 GMT on 28 September, the mission crew put on their pressure suits and began preparation for re-entry. At around 09:00 GMT, the spacecraft began to adjust its speed and status under the control of the space tracking ship Yuanwang 3. The re-entry capsule and service module were separated from the forward orbital module and solar panels. The spacecraft ignited its retro rocket engines to decrease speed and enter the re-entry trajectory.
At 09:14 GMT, the service module was separated from the re-entry capsule. At 09:29 GMT, the re-entry capsule deployed its main parachute. Communications with the ground control was restored within few minutes. At 09:38 GMT (17:38 CST), the re-entry capsule touched down on the grassland in the landing site. At 10:25 GMT, the three astronauts walked out the re-entry capsule under the assistance of the rescue crew. Later they were airlifted to nearby Hohhot by three helicopters.
On 29 September, the Shenzhou 7 crew were returned to Beijing onboard an air force jet to a hero’s welcome from the present crowds.