China Getting Ready for New Space Station Mission

China Getting Ready for New Space Station Mission

China confirmed today that the next launch of three taikonauts to its Tiangong-1 space station aboard the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft will take place very soon.

China’s news agency Xinhua did not specify the date for the launch, saying only that it would be “in the middle of June.”  Bob Christy ( tweets that the launch may take place between June 11 and June 20.

Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace), China’s first space station, was launched in September 2011.  After a test docking with an unoccupied spacecraft (Shenzhou-8), the first 3-person crew docked last year and spent just under two weeks aboard the small 8.5 metric ton module.  That crew included China’s first woman in space, Liu Yang.  (She and the first women in space from other counties will participate in a United Nations-sponsored event in Vienna, Austria on June 13 to commemorate the first flight of a woman to space 50 years ago.)

As first space stations go, Tiangong-1 is rather modest — just less than half the mass of the world’s first space station, the Soviet Union’s Salyut 1.  Launched in 1971, it had a mass of about 18.6 metric tons.  The first U.S. space station, Skylab, launched in 1973, had a mass of about 77 metric tons. 

Today’s International Space Station (ISS), a partnership among the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, has a mass of about 400 metric tons and has been permanently occupied by 2-6 person crews rotating on 4-6 month missions for the past 13 years.

Shenzhou-10 and its Long March- 2F rocket were transported to the launch site on Monday morning (Beijing time, which is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time).    The names of the three crew members have not been announced.

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