China to launch Shenzhou IX spacecraft Saturday
China will launch the Shenzhou IX manned spacecraft at 6:37 pm Saturday and send the country’s first female astronaut into space, a spokeswoman said Friday.
Three astronauts, two male and one female, will be onboard the country’s fourth manned spacecraft to fulfill the first manual space docking test, said Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China’s manned space program, at a press conference at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.
They are Jing Haipeng, Liu Wang and Liu Yang who is female, the spokeswoman said.
Liu Yang, 33, is an air force major. She was a veteran pilot with 1,680 hours of flying experience and the deputy head of a flight unit of the PLA’s Air Force before being recruited into China’s second batch of prospective astronauts in May 2010.
After two years of training that has shored up her astronautic skills and adaptability to the space environment, Liu excelled in testing and was selected in March this year as a candidate to crew the Shenzhou IX.
The major task of the upcoming space mission is to conduct a manual docking between the spacecraft and the orbiting space lab module Tiangong-1 for the first time in addition to another automatic docking, Wu said.
A successful manual docking will indicate that China grasps space rendezvous and docking technologies. It will be a significant step in the current stage of the country’s three-phase manned space program and a solid foundation for the future of the program, Wu said.
Also, it will be the country’s first attempt to ship supplies and personnel from Earth to the orbiting module, she said.
“We will fully examine whether Tiangong-1 can meet the needs of the astronauts,” she said.
As a female astronaut is included in a space mission for the first time in China’s space program, the selection, training, medical monitoring and security, and flight crew equipment for female astronauts will also be tested, Wu said.
The mission will further test the functions of spacecraft, carrier rocket and orbiting module as well as the coordination of different systems, she added.
Elaborating on the mission’s process, Wu said the spacecraft will separate from the carrier rocket 585 seconds after the launch and stay on an oval orbit with a perigee of 200 kilometers and an apogee of 330 kilometers for the automatic docking with the Tiangong-1 lab module.
With the completion of the automatic docking, astronauts will live and work in Tiangong-1.
The manual docking will take place several days after the automatic one, she added.
The Tiangong-1 has been lowered to the docking orbit 343km above Earth and is operating normally, the spokeswoman said.
The space lab module conducted an automatic docking with China’s unmanned Shenzhou-8 spaceship late last year.
The upgraded Long March-2F carrier rocket is expected to be fueled beginning 5:30 pm Friday.
“The final full-system drill has been completed. Astronauts are in good state and all preparations are in place,” Wu said.
The mission is meant to prepare for a space station around 2020 based on the space rendezvous and docking technology that is currently being tested. Several components will be sent into space separately before being assembled into a space station through a variety of docking procedures.