China Readying for Tiangong-1 Launch Tomorrow

China Readying for Tiangong-1 Launch Tomorrow

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that the launch of the Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) experimental space station module will take place tomorrow, September 29, just after 9:00 pm Beijing time (which is 12 hours ahead of EDT).

The launch window is open from 9:16-9:31 pm Beijing time (9:16-9:31 am EDT) according to Xinhua. The module is experimental and its primary purpose is for docking tests. China plans to launch at least three Shenzhou spacecraft to dock with it. The first two, Shenzhou 8 and 9, will be unoccupied; the third, Shenzhou 10, will carry one Chinese astronaut (referred to in the West as a “taikonaut”) according to Xinhua.

The docking tests are steps towards an eventual permanently-crewed space station. Chinese news sources have mentioned various dates for that space station over the years. Today’s report from Xinhua says it will be launched “around 2020.”

Shenzhou is the spacecraft China uses for its taikonauts and is similar to the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Shenzhou 1-4 were uncrewed test flights. The first Chinese taikonaut flew on Shenzhou 5 in 2003. In 2005, Shenzhou 6 was launched with two taikonauts. Shenzhou 7, launched in 2008, carried three taikonauts, two of whom performed China’s first spacewalk.

Shenzhou 8 is scheduled for launch a month after Tiangong-1. It will be unoccupied and conduct two docking tests before returning to Earth. Details of the Shenzhou 9 flight were not discussed in the article, but it apparently also will be unoccupied since the article focuses on Shenzhou 10’s flight with a taikonaut. The one-person crew for that mission has already been chosen and is in training and will perform manual rendenzvous and docking tests with Tiangong-1 according to Xinhua.

The article did not specify the launch dates for the Shenzhou spacecraft, saying only that Shenzhou 8 will launch one month after Tiangong-1, and the other two will be launched “in the next two years.”

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