Preparations on Track for Launch of First Chinese Space Station Crew, Manual Docking Planned

Preparations on Track for Launch of First Chinese Space Station Crew, Manual Docking Planned

China’s preparations for the launch of its first space station crew — including its first woman astronaut — remain on track for Saturday, weather permitting.   China’s Xinhua news service reveals that the crew will perform a manual rather than automated docking with the Tiangong-1 space station.

China’s CCTV news (in English) reports today that the Long March IIF rocket is being fueled at the Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi desert.  Water and food have been loaded into the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft for the three-person crew.  CCTV confirms again today that the crew will include China’s first woman astronaut.  

China has not announced the launch time for Shenzhou-9, but independent analysts calculate it at 10:39 or 10:41 GMT (6:39 am or 6:41 am Eastern Daylight Time).  Dragon-in-space, a website that focuses on China’s space program but states that it is not affiliated with any government agency or private organization, said that the crew most likely will be Jing Hai-peng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang, and the backup crew is Nie Hai-sheng, Chen Quan, and Wang Ya-ping.  Previously it had reported that the Nie crew was primary, but said on June 12 that the Jing crew is primary.  The Chinese government has said repeatedly that the final crew will not be selected until Friday.  This photograph from the Dragon-in-Space website reportedly shows both crews, but does not identify the individuals. 

Photo credit:  Dragon-in-Space (

CCTV and other Chinese media sources note that this is the first of their human spaceflight launches to take place in the summer.  CCTV reports that the heat at the launch site adds to the problem of “controlling the termperatures of the spaceship and the escape tower.”  Xinhua (in English) reports that the propellant must be cooled to 15 degrees Celsius to prevent it from vaporizing in the high heat.   Other seasons of the year pose their own problems.   Xinhua reveals that for the December 30, 2002 launch of the Shenzhou-4 spacecraft — a test flight that did not carry a crew — cotton quilts were used to keep the rocket warm as temperatures fell to minus 29 degrees Celsius.  

Sandstorms are another problem and Xinhua says “strong wind and sand” blew through the launch site on Wednesday, but the forecast for Friday and Saturday is for “relatively stable” weather.

The sound of the wind complicated a live video report by CCTV reporter Wang Yizhi today who is at Jiuquan.  She said that the wind cannot be more than 15 meters per second at the time of launch and it was “well above” that during her report  She also disputed other media reports that the final crew had been selected and emphasized that the decision would be made on Friday.

If weather delays Saturday’s launch, Bob Christy at calculates alternative launch dates as June 18, 20, 22 or 24.

Xinhua says that the Chinese crew will peform a manual rather than automated docking with the Tiangong-1 space station.   Automated tests were conducted last year using the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft, but they apparently plan to use a manual docking this time.

Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, was launch in September 2011.   Shenzhou-8 rendezvoused and docked with it twice in November.   Neither spacecraft had a crew.


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