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UPDATED: October 6, 2008 NO.41 OCT.9, 2008
Final Frontier
Shenzhou 7 mission marks the maiden space walk by Chinese astronauts

The ACC is planning to groom a new generation of astronauts for future space programs, "New blood will be needed in four to five years, and about 14 candidates of excellent physical and psychological health and impeccable flight records will be recruited," said Huang. In fact, members of the present astronauts team, including those on Shenzhou 7 mission are all in 40s.

The astronauts of next generation will be expected to handle more complex tasks than their predecessors, as ambitious future missions will include launch and dockings of space labs.

New technologies

Deep in the vast and barren Gobi desert, Shenzhou 6, carrying two astronauts, was sent to the Earth's orbit in 2005 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. One month later, at the celebrated conference, Chinese President Hu Jintao said, "As technology develops fast, China will have to build up its overall innovative strength to win a competitive edge."

In fact, the manned space program demands integral hi-tech innovations, and the Shenzhou 7 mission has achieved a string of technological breakthroughs in the field of aerospace, telemetry (transmitting the measurement of a quantity) and remote control, space life science, and space material science.

The Long March II-F carrier rocket series is developed by the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, affiliated to China Aerospace Science and Technology Co. (CASC). A total of 36 technical improvements have been devised to further enhance its reliability and make it more comfortable for pilots. When talking about development of the next generation of launch vehicles, Jiang Weixing with CASC, said that if China plans to launch a space station in the coming years, it will require rocket carriers with a higher payload capacity. "It is very likely that rockets of the next generation will need bigger fuel tanks to boost their capacity," he said.

China's first EVA attempt is secured by 227 major changes related to the spacecraft, such as depressurization and repressurization of the airlock module, plus the micro-electromechanical system of EVA space suits. The airlock is a pressure chamber linking the main body of the spacecraft to the outside. "It [the airlock module] works like a submarine, where transformation of pressure environment takes place," said Ma Xingrui, president of the CASA.

After the EVA, the astronauts released a small accompanying satellite weighing approximately 40kg. The satellite was equipped with cameras to capture the movement of the spacecraft. "The memory is large enough for storing 3,000 pictures," said Shen Xuemin, director of the companion satellite system, adding that the micro satellite possesses the superior capacity of automatic navigation and positioning system, which can adjust space altitude for stable transmission of pictures and audio signals.

The Shenzhou 7 spaceship carried 11 samples of solid lubricant to test the chemical nature of various materials. According to Gu Yidong, chief designer of the space application program with the Chinese Science Academy, solid lubricant was used in the plastic membrane of the Water Cube National Aquatic Center project. "If that technology can be applied to machinery manufacturing, wind power, aviation and automobile industries, it will save enormous amounts of energy," said Gu, adding that high performance lubricating oil can reduce metal friction by at least 20 percent, and thus lower the energy costs by 2 percent, which will save 2-3 million yuan ($294,000-441,000) annually.

In addition, nine vessels and over 30 aircrafts involved in the telemetry, tracking and control (TT&C) system, along with five tracking ships and some 20 terrestrial surveying stations constitute a formidable telemetry network to ensure accurate measuring of various quantities. The relay satellite, Tianlian No.1, also engaged in the space-based TT&C trial.

Space agenda

China formally implemented its manned space projects in 1992, drawing up a three-step plan, which seeks to launch a manned spacecraft, set up a space lab, and to establish a space station. With the successful launch and recovery of Shenzhou 1, an unmanned experimental spacecraft, China demonstrated its grasp of the technologies needed for manned space flight. The Shenzhou 5 mission, China's first manned space flight, made the country the third to carry out an independent manned space mission. And in 2005, Shenzhou 6 completed a two-person, multiple-day space flight, which bolstered the brilliant success of the Shenzhou 7 mission.

"The Shenzhou 7 mission is a major step of China's three-step manned space project, paving the way for crucial technical preparation for building a large space lab," said Ma, also deputy director of the project.

China's growing presence in space exploration displays its space capabilities, so spaceship rendezvous and docking experiments will be on the agenda, noted Thomas Johns, former U.S. astronaut, now consultant to NASA in an interview with the Beijing-based Global Times.

The newly released working plans from the CASC said that, China will launch its space lab after subsequent unmanned and manned space flights during 2011-2015, and will build a new generation of carrier rocket under the plan.

(Reporting from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center)

The Timetable Of China's Space Industry Development

October 8, 1956: The country's first rocket research institution -- the fifth academy of the National Defense Ministry -- is founded, symbolizing the birth of the Chinese space program

April 1, 1968: The Institute of Space Medico-Engineering is established; the selection and training of astronauts as well as manned space flight medical engineering research is also conducted

April 24, 1970: China's first successful man-made satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1, is launched at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center

November 26, 1975: The first recoverable satellite is launched and returns after three days

1985: The Long March rocket series begins a commercial launch program

1992: The Chinese manned space program is officially adopted

1999-2002: China launched four unmanned spaceships (Shenzhou 1 to Shenzhou 4), laying a solid foundation for future manned spacecraft

October 15, 2003: The first manned spacecraft, Shenzhou 5, is launched, sending one astronaut into space

October 12, 2005: The second manned spacecraft, Shenzhou 6, is launched, sending two astronauts into space


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