China successfully launched its second experimental unmanned spacecraft on January 10, marking fresh progress in the development of its manned spaceflight technology.
The spacecraft, Shenzhou 2, blasted into space from a satellite launching pad in Jiuquan. Gansu Province, at 1 a.m. atop a new type of Long March rocket.
The launch followed the maiden flight of Shenzhou 1 on November 20, 1999. The country's first unmanned space vehicle did 14 orbits of the planet during a 21-hour journey in space.
Shenzhou 2 detached itself from the launch vehicle and entered orbit, according to information offered by the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center.
Information from tracking networks on land and at sea was processed at the command center. It indicated that the rocket and spacecraft performed well at all stages of the operation.
China needs three or four more test flights of unmanned spacecraft before it can send an astronaut into space, an aerospace official says.
"A manned space flight will be feasible when technological preparations are mature after these tests," an expert from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. said.
The expert said that China's ambitious three-phase space program was initiated in 1992.
Features of Shenzhou 2
The Shenzhou 2 was China's first formal model of a manned spacecraft consisting of an orbital module, a descent module and a propulsion module. With higher technical performance, its state-of-the-art design was basically up to the standard of a manned spacecraft.
During its flight, experiments on space life science, space materials, space astronomy and physics were conducted, covering such areas as the crystal growth of optoelectronic materials, oxide crystal and metal alloy; the crystal growth of protein and other macromolecules in space; and space environment effects on plants, animals, aquatic organisms, microorganisms, in-vitro cells and cellular tissues. During its flight, experimental instruments and equipment performed steadily, with large amounts of flight experimental data being obtained.