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Shenzhou 7

Shenzhou 7 was the third human spaceflight mission of the Chinese space program. The mission, which included an extra-vehicular activity (EVA) carried out by crewmembers Zhai Zhigang and Liu Boming, marked the commencement of the second phase of the Chinese government's Project 921.

The Shenzhou spacecraft carrying the three crewmembers was launched September 25, 2008 by a Long March 2F (CZ-2F) rocket which lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 21:10 CST. The mission lasted three days, after which the craft landed safely in Siziwang Banner in central Inner Mongolia on September 28, 2008 at 17:37 CST. The EVA carried out during the flight makes China the third country to have conducted an EVA, after Russia and the United States.

Crew

The crew for Shenzhou 7 was announced on September 17, 2008.

Numbers in parentheses indicates number of spaceflights by each individual prior to and including this mission.

Back-up crew

Of the back-up crew, only Chen Quan has not flown in space.

Mission highlights

The Long March rocket launched the Shenzhou 7 into an initial elliptical orbit of 200 x 330 kilometres inclined at 42.4 degrees on September 25. About seven hours later the spacecraft raised its orbit to a more circular orbit of 330 x 336 km. After three days in space, deorbit manoeuvres began on September 28 at 08:48, and the return module landed at 09:37 UTC at coordinates .

China has been congratulated by a number of foreign leaders for the successful completion of the mission, which marked a number of developments for China's space program, including several first-time achievements.

China's first three-person mission

Shenzhou 7 was the first Chinese space mission to carry a three-person crew for several days and conduct a full operation. A total of six astronauts were trained, three to conduct the mission and three others to serve as a backup crew.

China's first spacewalk

On September 27, Zhai Zhigang, wearing a Chinese-developed Feitian space suit, conducted a 20-minute space walk, the first ever for a Chinese astronaut. Zhai slipped out of the orbital module in a head-first position at around 16:43 (0843 GMT) and wandered around the orbital module, retrieved experiment samples and waved the Chinese flag in space. The space walk lasted about 20 minutes, with Zhai returning to the orbital module at 17:00. The first space walk was limited in scope: cables were used to tie Zhai to the handrail outside the orbital module, and his moving route was restricted to areas near the exits. Liu Boming, wearing a Russian Orlan-M suit, stayed in the airlock in the orbital module to provide help if necessary. Liu also conducted an EVA, standing up at 08:58 UTC to hand Zhai a flag. The third astronaut, Jing Haipeng remained in the re-entry module to monitor the general situation of the spacecraft. By 09:00 UTC both astronauts were back inside and the hatch was closed. The space walk was broadcast live on Chinese media, and two cameras provided panoramic images.

The Feitian spacesuit is similar to the Orlan-M (known as Haiying, 海鹰, in Chinese) in shape and volume and are designed for spacewalks of up to seven hours, providing oxygen and allowing for the excretion of bodily waste. According to Chinese media reports, spacesuit materials with such features as fire and radiation resistance were developed by several civilian corporations and national institutes. Each suit was reported to have cost 30 million RMB (about 4.4 million USD). Except for the gloves of the Feitian suit, the space suits were not brought back to earth.

A fire alarm was reported to the control center at the beginning of the EVA, but it was confirmed to be a false alarm.

Solid lubricant experiment

Scientists conducted a solid lubricant exposure experiment during the mission. A piece of equipment the size of a book was installed on the outside wall of the orbital module, and was later retrieved during the space walk, after having been exposed in the space for more than 40 hours. The experiment was aimed to study a lubricant which will be used for space-based moving components in future space facilities.

Release of miniaturized satellite

A miniaturized satellite was released during the mission on September 27 at 19:24, after Zhai returned to the spacecraft. The satellite was a cube about long, with a mass of ; it carried boost devices and two 150-megapixel stereo cameras. The satellite's tasks included testing the mini-satellite technology, observing and monitoring the spacecraft, and testing the tracking and approaching technology used for space rendezvous and docking. According to the mission plans, the miniaturized satellite will first take photos and videos near the spacecraft, then maneuver to about away from the spacecraft. After the return module separates from the spacecraft and re-enters the atmosphere, the satellite will catch up to the orbiting spacecraft using a liquid ammonia engine, then continue to orbit near the spacecraft. The mini-satellite will work for about three months.

Data relay satellite

China launched its first-ever data relay satellite, called Tianlian I (天链一号), from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on a Long March-3C carrier rocket on April 25, 2008. The Tianlian I satellite will be used to speed up communication between the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft and the ground stations, and to increase the amount of data that can be transferred to the ground. The Tianlian I satellite alone can cover 50 percent of the orbit of Shenzhou 7—whereas the Yuanwang space tracking ships, along with China's ten ground observation stations, have a coverage of only 12 percent—and thus will increase the total coverage to about 60 percent of the mission.

Mission support and preparation

Subsystems

The Shenzhou 7 project consists of seven subsystems, with the Chinese military responsible for launching, recovering, crew, and tracking subsystems, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation responsible for the carrier rocket and spacecraft itself, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences responsible for the payloads on board the spacecraft (other than the crew).

Water training pool

A columniform water training pool of in diameter and in depth, located in China Astronaut Training Center, simulates the weightlessness experienced in space. A model of the Shenzhou orbital module has been used in the pool to train the crew for the space walk.

Modifications to the CZ-2F carrier rocket

Special attention has been paid to solving vibration problems that were encountered 120 seconds into the Shenzhou 5 mission. These vibrations were described by Shenzhou 5 astronaut Yang Liwei as hard to endure. Corrective measures were implemented for the Shenzhou 6 mission, but since then more improvements have been added to the carrier rocket, to the pipes of the second stage, and to more than thirty other parts of the spacecraft..

Modifications to the spacecraft

The Orbital module has been modified and its solar panels removed in order to allow for the EVA experiment. For this same reason, in contrast to previous Shenzhou missions, it will not remain in space after its separation with the departing crew in the Return module. Handrails have been added to the external wall of the Orbital module to allow the space walking astronaut to reach specific experiment areas.

More cameras have been installed on this spacecraft than on the Shenzhou 6 vessel, in addition to those covering the Orbital module and the Return module.

New space tracking ships

Two new, recently-commissioned Yuanwang-class tracking ships, Yuanwang-5 and Yuanwang-6, will play a key role in the Shenzhou VII mission.

Toilets

Custom-made, compact, foldable toilets allow the astronaut's collected urine to be recycled for use as drinking water.

Project management

Most of the Shenzhou 6 project management team has stayed for the Shenzhou 7 mission. Changes in personnel include:

Controversies

False news report

A false news article appeared on Xinhua News Agency's website on 25 September 2008, reporting mission events dated 27 September 2008; the article was reported in several mainstream news sources. The report described in detail the launch, which had not yet occurred, as well as the process of tracking and data transfer by a tracking ship, and dialogue between the crew members in space. The report was taken down the same day, and when contacted by the Associated Press, a xinhuanet.com staffer stated that it had been a "technical error by a technician."

See also

  • Chinese space program
  • Voskhod 2, first spacewalk mission, first Soviet spacewalk, first spacewalk from a 2-man crew mission
  • Gemini 4, first US spacewalk mission, second spacewalk mission, second spacewalk from a 2-man crew mission

References

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