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Chinese spacewalk 'not in 2008'

Extra vehicular activity unlikely to take place during third manned mission as water tank for training not yet built

China's first spacewalk, expected during its third manned flight, is unlikely to take place next year as planned. China launched its first astronaut in 2003 in its Shenzhou-5 vehicle and carried out a two-man flight in 2005 with Shenzhou-6.

A third mission involving extra vehicular activity was expected "around 2008" according to a paper presented last year by the China Academy of Space Technology.

But in an exclusive interview last week with Flight International, China's first astronaut Yang Liwei, now vice-director at the China Astronaut Research and Training Centre, indicated that a water tank for EVA training, similar to those used by the USA and Russia, has not been built yet. "It will be installed at the [China Astronaut Research and Training Center]. We are making some pre-water-tank training," he said.

Asked if the spacewalk would take place next year, Yang said "everything is going to schedule". But the apparent lack of progress with EVA training was reflected in comments made by the centre's EVA simulation researcher Jinlan Kang at last week's 16th International Academy of Astronautics' Humans in Space symposium in Beijing. Asked if she expected the spacewalk to occur next year, Jinlan said she did not.

Jinlan has developed a two-dimensional desktop EVA simulator with future work planned to create a three-dimensional display system. Her simulation assumed the use of a manned manoeuvring unit (MMU), which NASA used on Space Shuttle missions in the 1980s. But it is not clear whether China would use an MMU for its EVAs.

The simulation also included the visual representation of a space laboratory, but Jinlan said she had assumed egress from a Shenzhou vehicle. Liwei said it "was not decided" if Shenzhou-8 and -9 would be docked together to create the space laboratory.

Read the full interviewwith China's first astronaut Yang Liwei

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