Shenzhou 8 Moments after Separation from Tiangong 1
_After achieving its first successful orbital docking on November 2, China succesfully completed a Undock – Re-Dock Maneuver using the Shenzhou 8 Capsule and the mini Space-Lab-Module Tiangong 1.
Yesterday, the Complex of Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1 performed a small orbit adjust maneuver to prepare for the operations that took place at an altitude of about 200 miles earlier today. Flying in Auto Mode, Shenzhou 8 undocked by opening hooks and latches to separate from Tiangong 1. Undcoking occurred at around 19:26 Beijing Time – according to Chinese Sources. Using its Ranging System that includes optical, radar and laser equipment, the Spacecraft retreated to a distance of about 140m to its docking port. After a very brief period of stationkeeping, the Re-Docking Maneuver was initiated. Onboard Navigation Systems guided the Vehicle back to its docking port flying a precise trajectory at pre-planned velocities. The Docking Ring made contact with Tiangong at a closing rate of 20 to 25 centimeters per second for a gentle docking. Hooks and latches were engaged once again to form a hard mate between the orbiting spacecraft. The operation had a duration of about 30 Minutes. This docking was performed in different lighting conditions than the first one to evaluate the docking system in a environment that is harder to manage by the sensor suite.
The two vehicles will remain docked for only two days this time before Shenzhou 8 departs the ‘Heavenly Palace’ for good and prepares for deorbit and landing. The Entry Module will parachute back to Earth on November 17 for a safe landing bringing back science experiments that will be analyzed after the mission.
Up to this point, the mission has been a complete success and only a few steps to a safe return have yet to be completed. Should the rest of this mission be as expected, this flight could set the stage for a manned Shenzhou 9 Mission to Tiangong 1 in the first half of 2012. Shenzhou 10 is also expected to launch in 2012. Chinese officials have indicated that one of the flights would include China’s first female Astronaut. Wether Shenzhou 9 will be manned or not will be announced some time after this mission when more thorough analysis of the spacecraft and its performance are completed.
Tiangong 2 will be China’s next Module that will feature 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. China is planning to have a 100-ton station ready for buisness by 2020.
[China executes first Docking in Space]
[Chinal Launches Docking Demonstration Mission]
[More Information on Tiangong 1]
November 14, 2011