China's spaceship docking simulators delayed

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China's space programme has yet to install spacecraft simulators to prepare for its planned rendezvous and docking mission to create an orbital laboratory.

Under China's three-stage human spaceflight programme, the first stage was to have manned flights, which took place in 2003 and 2005 the second, 2009 to 2012, is to have a docking between a Shenzhou vehicle and a target spacecraft which may be another Shenzhou and the third is launching a space station. The lack of any docking simulators just 18 months before the 2009 target suggests the mission is unlikely to take place early in the second phase.

"We are planning for two new simulators, they are fixed base. The next new simulators are for docking," says China Astronaut Research and Trainer Center spaceflight training simulation department professor Yuqing Lin.

The China Astronaut Training and Research Center is located in Haidian in Beijing. Established in 1969 it is also known as the Astronaut Center of China.

It currently has one full-size fixed-base Shenzhou simulator in a launch stack configuration that is used for all phases of flight. It was first used eight years ago. It has no simulators with any multiple axes.

Video screens cover the Shenzhou mock-up's windows and run images of the Earth and space that correlate with the simulator's virtual location in orbit.

ACC also has one centrifuge that has been in operation since 1998. This has a DC electric-powered single-axis 8m (26ft) arm that can carry a payload of 164kg (360lb) with a maximum acceleration of 6g/s, 42rpm and g level of 16g. It has run more than 2,000 times since the start of operations. The astronaut sits in a horizontal position facing the clockwise direction of travel. The seat can be angled to alter the g loading experience.