Shenzhou 13 launch first long-duration Chinese Space Station crew
After a successful launch to the new Chinese Space Station earlier this year and the… The post Shenzhou 13 launch first long-duration Chinese Space Station crew appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.
After a successful launch to the new Chinese Space Station earlier this year and the initial 90-day “shakedown cruise” of the Shenzhou 12 crew, three taikonauts launched to the station aboard the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft to begin the first long-duration stay aboard.
Shenzhou 13 launched atop a Chang Zheng 2F (CZ-2F) rocket at 16:23 UTC (00:23 local time on Saturday), from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, in north-central China.
Shenzhou 13 is the eighth crewed flight of China’s space program, flown by the three taikonauts who were previously named as the backup crew for Shenzhou 12. They include Wang Yaping, who will be the first woman to reside aboard the new space station. Yaping previously flew aboard Shenzhou 10, becoming the second Chinese woman to fly in space, and is a colonel in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Zhai Zhigang, commanding the mission, is a major general in the People’s Liberation Army and previously flew aboard Shenzhou 7, becoming the first Chinese taikonaut to conduct a spacewalk. Ye Guangfu, a PLAAF pilot and first-time space flier, was selected for the program in 2010.
Shenzhou 13 is China’s second crewed flight of 2021, marking the first time that China has launched multiple crewed missions in the same year. This illustrates the increasing cadence of the Chinese human spaceflight program, compared to the start of the last decade, when a few years would pass between Shenzhou flights.Shenzhou 13 Updates
The rapid advance of China’s space program from early flights to long-duration stays aboard an operational space station — which will grow with the addition of future modules in the coming years — builds on half a century of human spaceflight experience and knowledge gained by the United States and the Soviet Union, later Russia.
Although the progression through milestones such as the first spacewalk and space station development has not been too different from the time it took the United States and USSR to develop similar capabilities, China has achieved this in far fewer flights. For comparison, Shenzhou 13 is the eighth crewed flight for China’s program, while the eighth Soviet and American missions were Voskhod 2 and Gemini 4 respectively. Coincidentally, those missions both saw their nations’ first spacewalks made by Alexi Leonov and Ed White respectively.
Shenzhou 13 launched atop a Chang Zheng 2F (CZ-2F) rocket — also known as Long March 2F — a human-rated and upgraded version of the now-retired Chang Zheng 2E vehicle which was previously used for geostationary satellite launches.
Shenzhou lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, using launch pad 43/91, part of the facility’s South Launch Site (SLS). The South Launch Site is the only remaining active orbital launch area, with older complexes to the north no longer in use.
Although Shenzhou 13 and its carrier rocket were only rolled out to the launch pad on 7 October, they have been kept in an advanced state of readiness over the summer in the event an emergency should occur in orbit with the Shenzhou 12 mission. NASA similarly kept Apollo spacecraft on standby for rescue launches during the Skylab program – most notably during the Skylab 3 mission where concerns arose regarding the spacecraft’s thrusters.
Prior to launch, the crew underwent inspection and was escorted to the launch pad. After donning their launch and entry suits, which are based on the Sokol suits used aboard Russian spacecraft since 1973, they boarded their spacecraft a few hours before liftoff.
After ignition of the first stage main engine and four strap-on liquid rocket boosters, the Chang Zheng 2F began the climb into orbit. The two-stage rocket burns hypergolic propellants — unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide. The first stage and boosters burned together for the first 155 seconds of flight before the boosters burned out and separated.
Shortly afterward, as the vehicle leaves Earth’s atmosphere, the fairing separated from the nose of the rocket, exposing Shenzhou 13 to space for the first time. After the first stage cut off and separated, the second stage ignited to propel the spacecraft into orbit, while the first stage and boosters fell into a drop zone east of the launch site.
The second stage’s main engine cut off about eight minutes into the flight once it has reached low Earth orbit, and Shenzhou 13 separated shortly afterward. Following separation, the spacecraft’s solar panels and antennae deployed. The Shenzhou design draws on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, and this is reflected in the similarity of their early on-orbit operations.
Space Station Expedition
A few hours after reaching orbit, Shenzhou 13 is expected to rendezvous and dock with the Chinese Space Station.
This flight is scheduled to surpass Shenzhou 12 as the longest human spaceflight in the Chinese program to date, with its crew’s 180-day tour of duty aboard the station set to become the standard for taikonauts on future missions. This is similar to the crewmembers of the International Space Station, who typically remain in orbit for around six months at a time.
During their stay aboard, the taikonauts will continue with the fitting-out of the space station and conduct experiments aboard the outpost. The mission is also expected to include a spacewalk during which Wang Yaping will become the first Chinese woman to walk in space.
The Shenzhou 13 crew will use supplies delivered by the recently-arrived Tianzhou 3 cargo ship, including new spacesuits which, at 90 kilograms, are lighter than the suits used by the Shenzhou 12 taikonauts during their EVAs.
Following its six-month stay at the space station, the Shenzhou 13 mission will end in the spring when the spacecraft undocks for the return to Earth. The crew will board the spacecraft’s descent module, which is expected to land in Inner Mongolia, which has been the landing site for previous Shenzhou missions.
Just as the Shenzhou 13 spacecraft was kept on standby during the Shenzhou 12 mission, the Shenzhou 14 spacecraft will be kept in readiness with its CZ-2F carrier rocket, should an emergency occur that requires the Shenzhou 13 crew to be rescued during their flight.
The successful completion of the Shenzhou 13 mission will mark the end of the first phase of the “Third Step” of China’s human spaceflight program: the construction of the Chinese Space Station. This follows on from the first and second steps: launching a crewed spacecraft and building a small space laboratory, goals accomplished with the Shenzhou 5 mission in 2003 and Shenzhou 9/Tiangong 1 in 2012.
After Shenzhou 13, the second phase of the Third Step will see the space station expanded with the addition of new modules. The Wentian and Mengtian modules are currently expected to be launched and installed during 2022, while the Shenzhou 14 mission is underway.
China plans to use the station to begin its own permanent human presence in space. Future missions to the outpost are expected to include international crewmembers as human activity in low Earth orbit increases dramatically with more missions and more players.
(Lead photo of rollout of Shenzhou 12)
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