The successful launch and retrieval of Shenzhou 4 has laid a solid foundation for the realization of the nation's dream of manned space flight. Despite the tragedy of the U.S. Columbia space shuttle, China's space program remains unaffected and its first manned spacecraft, Shenzhou 5, will lift off in the second half of this year.
To boldly go where China has never gone before, to the farthest reaches of outer space for the good of humanity - the nation is on its way. The successful launch and retrieval of the Shenzhou 3 and Shenzhou 4 spacecrafts last year finally pushed the country into the elite club of space explorers. Nine more launches of satellites and rockets are scheduled for this year.
China's space technological achievements greatly contribute to the peaceful exploration of outer space and economic development, said Luan Enjie, head of the China National Space Administration and Vice Minister of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. The government has always given its full support to the program, and considers space exploration as an important part of China's overall development strategy.
High in the heavens, polar-orbiting meteorological satellite Fengyun 1-D, maritime satellite Haiyang 1 and earth resources observation satellite Ziyuan 2 are playing important roles in managing China's meteorology, oceans and environment, and helping to predict when natural disasters will strike.
Four tasks are stressed in the 10th Five-Year Plan period (2001-05) of China National Space Administration: Communication satellites of high capacity, high performance and duration will be developed; a new generation of carrier rockets, including non-toxic and non-polluting launching vehicles, will be developed at low cost and the Long March series launchers will be modified to improve reliability and payload capacity; high-resolution, all-weather satellites will be launched for disaster and environment monitoring, with meteorological, maritime and environment satellites at the core; and the Double Planet Project will be implemented for further research of the geo-magnetosphere and the space physics of the solar system.
This year China's space program faces its heaviest tasks,with nine launches scheduled, said Zhang Qingwei, General Manager of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
Shenzhou 5 launch not affected
On February 1, the U.S. shuttle Columbia exploded 16 minutes before it was supposed to land and its crew of seven astronauts died.
The shuttle Columbia tragedy will not affect China's space flight program and Shenzhou 5 is expected to be launched in the second half of this year as scheduled, indicated Professor Zhang Houying, Chief Commander of China's manned space flight applied system.
Zhang said the Long March 2-F rocket, or Shenjian, will send Shenzhou 5 into space. In order to assure astronauts' safety, Shenjian has automatic fault checking and escape systems. The fault checking system has several hundred fault modes and will alert astronauts if a problem occurs. With the help of the new systems, astronauts can use escape pods even after spacecrafts are launched. The Shenzhou series is equipped with escape pods. Although the previous launches all went off without a hitch, the escape pods were jettisoned 110 km above the Earth as a matter of routine.
Once astronauts are ready to enter the launching tower, in case of emergency, they can escape through cloth chutes on the tower. The cloth chute is made of special stretchy canvas. Astronauts in the chute can control the speed of descent by using their arms and legs, like sliding down from a rope ladder to the safe place underground.
The Shanghai Space Bureau confirms that Shenzhou 5 is being assembling. In order to assure safety, Shenzhou 5 will be launched in the autumn to take advantage of good weather.
Astronauts in Shenzhou 5 will be equipped with guns and knives in case they are attacked by sharks or other beasts after touchdown on Earth. If the spacecraft misses the pre-designated landing place, a power supply and communication equipment will continue to work for over 24 hours, signaling an SOS to the communications headquarters.
Shenzhou 5 has 6 cubic meters of room for three astronauts. The number of astronauts and time of travel will be decided closer to the launch. Unimpeded broadband will provide image and sound communication between Shenzhou 5 and the mission control center. Even from outer space astronauts will be able to get connected with their family members to ease the psychological pressures of traveling in space.
Last year, China made many technological breakthroughs in space exploration. The engines of new rockets were greatly improved. Haiyang 1 became China's first ocean-monitoring satellite, and 96 percent of the flight plans were completed for 2002, much higher than previous years.
Four Advantages of Shenzhou Spacecrafts
China gained world attention when it successfully launched and retrieved the Shenzhou 3 and Shenzhou 4 spacecrafts last year. The track records of four spacecrafts fully demonstrate that China's spacecraft landing system, composed of ground and maritime tracking systems, spacecraft retrieval technology, and safety have already met the requirements of manned space flight.
Astronauts' safety is the first criterion in deciding whether a launch is successful, said Zhang Qingwei, adding that the Shenzhou series has four major advantages over other spacecraft:
First, high-intelligence technology. Each holds three astronauts, which is more complicated and of higher technological requirements than rockets designed for one astronaut.
Second, high adaptability. According to the design plan, orbit modules can also be used for living and conducting experiments. After the astronauts return to Earth, the orbit module can still stay in space for several months, continuing its mission of exploration and experimentation. These missions also lay a solid foundation for the next step in manned space flight - docking a spacecraft with another space structure or aircraft.
Third, practicality. The craft carries both humans and goods.
Fourth, a relaxed place. The space in the recoverable module is larger than any module of existing low-orbit spacecrafts in the world, enabling astronauts to live and work in a relaxed space with advanced equipment.
Chinese space explorers will wear white suits, similar to the space suit of the United States, and large helmets with oxygen and communication features, and the elbows can bend, said Shi Jinmiao, Deputy Chief Designer and Deputy General Commander of the Shenzhou series.
China possesses the majority of the intellectual property rights used in the production of the Shenzhou series. All technologies were developed independently.
Shenzhou 4 Yields Scientific Fruits
Scientific experiments made on Shenzhou 4 have yielded great research results, such as the successful monitoring of the space environment on a large scale, originating a new way of microwave remote sensing for China's space program, and upgrading liquid-drop fluid experiments to advanced international level.
Radiation of charged particles and neutral atmosphere may threaten normal flight and astronauts' safety, say experts. The high-performance equipment onboard Shenzhou 4 successfully monitored high-energy charged particles that were headed in the direction of the spacecraft. According to data analysis, experts say that the space "weather" will be calm in the coming years, thus providing good conditions for further manned space flight. Now, the orbit module of Shenzhou 4 remains in orbit to scan for the heavens for further clangers.
The multi-modality microwave remote sensor on Shenzhou 4 consists of three microwave radiometers, radar altimeters and radar scatterometers. Microwave radiometers can find out soil temperature and consistency, ocean surface temperature and vapor quantity in the atmosphere; radar altimeters measure parameters of maritime dynamics such as wave heights and maritime circulation; and radar scatterometers mainly work on wind direction and velocity. The multi-modality microwave remote sensor works in all weather, surpassing previous models using visible light and infrared techniques that did not work in foul weather. The sensor plays an important role in monitoring the growth of crops and vegetation, predicting maritime disasters, analyzing natural resources and wind andtransforming the power of the sea into energy.
Because of their difference in weight, oil always floats on the surface of water on Earth. But in microgravity, the liquids move differently. The video cameras installed on Shenzhou 4 successfully documented the experiment and sent the results back to Earth. The experiment marks a great breakthrough for China and improves the country's research capacity under micro-gravity to the world's highest levels.