A senior Chinese space engineer has revealed a revised plan for the country’s manned spaceflight programme, which involves linking three spacecraft to form an orbiting mini-laboratory.
Shenzhou-7, -8 and -9 were to be launched on Long March rockets in 2007 and 2009. Shenzhou-7 was to host a spacewalk, while -8 and -9 were to rendezvous and dock to create a two-module complex.
Quoting Qi Faren, former Shenzhou spacecraft chief designer, Chinese state media says the new plan retains Shenzhou-7’s 2007 spacewalking mission, but the unmanned Shenzhou-8 will now be an 8t space laboratory module with two docking ports instead of the one previously planned.
Launches of Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 will take place in 2010, at intervals of less than a month. The unmanned Shenzhou-9 will rendezvous and dock with -8, and be the second module for the laboratory. The manned Shenzhou-10 will then dock to provide a crew.
The existing plan then envisages a small man-tended space station being launched in 2011-12, followed by at least one visiting manned mission.
CHEN LAN / SHANGHAI