Shenzhou (Chinese: 神舟; pinyin: Shén Zhōu) is a spacecraft developed by the People's Republic of China to support its manned spaceflight program. Its design is based on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but is larger. The first manned launch was on October 15, 2003.
Development began in 1992, under the name of Project 921-1. The Chinese National Manned Space Program was given the designation Project 921 with Project 921-1 as its first significant goal. The plan called for a manned launch in October 1999, prior to the new millennium.
The first four unmanned test flights happened in 1999, 2001 and 2002. These were followed by manned launches on October 15, 2003, October 12, 2005 and September 25, 2008.
The name is variously translated as "Divine Craft", "Divine Vessel of the Gods" or similar, and is identically pronounced, though differently written, with a literary name for China (神州; literally "Divine Land").
In March 2005, an asteroid was named 8256 Shenzhou in honour of the spacecraft.
The Shenzhou spacecraft closely resembles Soyuz, although it is substantially larger, and unlike the Soyuz, it features a powered orbital module capable of autonomous flight.
The similarity in outward appearance between Shenzhou and Soyuz arises partially from basic constraints on space flight. Like Soyuz, Shenzhou consists of three modules: a forward orbital module (轨道舱), a reentry capsule (返回舱) in the middle, and an aft service module (推进舱). This division is based on the principle of minimizing the amount of material to be returned to Earth. Anything placed in the orbital or service modules does not require heat shielding, and this greatly increases the space available in the spacecraft without increasing weight as much as it would if those modules were also able to withstand reentry. Thus both Soyuz and Shenzhou have more living area with less weight than the Apollo CSM.
Complete Spacecraft Data
The orbital module (轨道舱) contains space for experiments, crew-serviced or operated equipment, and in-orbit habitation. Without docking systems, Shenzhou 1~6 carried different kinds of payload on the top of their orbital modules for scientific experiments.
Unlike the Soyuz, the Shenzhou orbital module is also equipped with its own propulsion, and control systems, allowing autonomous flight. It is possible for Shenzhou to leave an orbital module in orbit for redocking by a later spacecraft, something which the Soyuz cannot do since the hatch enabling it to function as an airlock is part of its descent module. In the future it is possible that the orbital module(s) could also be left behind on the planned Chinese project 921/2 space station as additional station modules. The fact that China has yet to deploy a space station (e.g., something equivalent to Salyut such as a module that has been re-docked with after deployment) implies an equivalent stage of progress to Russia pre-1970.
In the unmanned test flights launched to date, the orbital module of each Shenzhou was left functioning on orbit for several days after the reentry capsules return, and the Shenzhou 5 orbital module continued to operate for six months after launch.
Orbital module Data
The reentry module (返回舱) is located in the middle section of the spacecraft and contains seating for the crew. It is the only portion of Shenzhou which returns to Earth's surface. Its shape is a compromise between maximizing living space while allowing for some aerodynamic control upon reentry.
Re-entry module Data
The aft service module (推进舱) contains life support and other equipment required for the functioning of Shenzhou. Two pairs of solar panels, one pair on the service module, the other pair on the orbital module, have a total area of over 40 m² (430 ft²), indicating average electrical power over 1.5 kW (Soyuz have 1.0 kW).
Service module Data
Shenzhou "space laboratory module"
It has been stated by some sourcesthat Shenzhou 8 would be an "8-ton small space laboratory" or "8-ton space station", and Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 will dock with it; but at 29 Sept. 2008, Zhang Jianqi (张建启), Vice Director of China manned space engineering, declared in an interview of China Central Televisionit is Tiangong 1 (i.e. not Shenzhou 8) that will be the 8-ton "target vehicle", and Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 will all be spaceships to dock with Tiangong 1 in turn.
China's first efforts at human spaceflight started in 1968 with a projected launch date of 1973. Although China did launch an unmanned satellite in 1970 and has maintained an active unmanned program since, this attempt was canceled due to lack of funds and political interest.
The chief designers include Qi Faren and Wang Yongzhi. The first unmanned flight of the spacecraft was launched on November 19, 1999 after which Project 921/1 was renamed Shenzhou, a name reportedly chosen by Jiang Zemin. A series of three additional unmanned flights ensued. The Shenzhou reentry capsules used to date are 13 percent larger than Soyuz reentry capsules, and it is expected that later craft will be designed to carry a crew of four instead of Soyuz's three, although physical limitations on astronaut size, as experienced with earlier incarnations of Soyuz, will likely apply.
While the Shenzhou orbital module could be used for military reconnaissance there appears to be no military reason for incorporating such as system in a manned mission, as China could use purely unmanned satellites for these purposes. The experience during the 1960s of both the United States with the Manned Orbiting Laboratory and the Soviet Union with the Almaz space station suggests that the military usefulness of human spaceflight is quite limited and that practically all military uses of space are much more effectively performed by unmanned satellites. Yet, the nature of space exploration, with different nations trying successively to achieve the same goals (e.g., the original "space race", current efforts to duplicate GPS and GLONASS with Galileo), implies that China may well be walking down this route as others have before them.
This is similar to the process used by the Soviet Union in their early Soyuz program which was intended to test procedures for future lunar flights.
Published - July 2009
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