China has become the thrid Nation to dock two vehicles in space. The Shenzhou 8 Capsule that was launched on Monday successfully docked with the Tiangong 1 Space Station Module at 1:30pm EDT while orbiting Earth at an altitude of 243 miles.
After being launched, Shenzhou 8 performed 5 maneuvers to Rendezvous with the Tiangong 1 Target Vehicle. The automated docking sequence was flawless. At a range of 30 miles, the automatic guidance system began navigating the vehicle by using different docking sensors including optical, laser and radar elements. At a speed of about 0.15 meters per second, the two spacecraft were soft docked. 10 minutes later, a hard mate was established by closing 12 locking pins and a big round of applause filled the Chinese Mission Control Room. Later, attitude control of the complex was handed to Tiangong to end the docking phase of the flight. This is a major step for this Nation that is working toward the goal of building their own space station in orbit. Today takes them one step closer to achieving this goal by demonstrating the capability of docking two spacecraft automatically.
The first docked phase of the mission will last for 12 days. Then, the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft will undock and perform a flyout to a distance of 460 feet. Another docking sequence will be completed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the system one more time. The second docked phase will last for about two days before Shenzhou 8 departs the mini-space-lab-module once again. The Re-Entry Module of the Spacecraft will make a safe landing returning to Earth with experiment payloads that will be analyzed following the flight.
A successful Shenzhou 8 mission will set the stage for manned flights to Tiangong 1 planned to start next year.
China plans two more flights to Tiangong 1 before Tiangong 2 launches for more ambitious missions featuring advanced science operations. Tiangong 3 will be launched before 2016 to be the final preparatory step before space station construction begins. Chinese Officials have indicated that their new space station will be as big as the US Skylab Space Station that orbited Earth in the 1970s. This large station is expected to open for buisness by 2020 - according to Chinese sources.
Today's successful docking marked the second docking of the day. Earlier today, a Russian Progress resupply ship docked with the International Space Station.
[Article: Shenzhou 8 Launch]
[More Information on Tiangong 1]