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Jason DavisJune 11, 2013

China launches three-person crew to visit Tiangong 1 space station

China’s fifth human spaceflight is underway following the launch of a Long March 2F rocket carrying the three-person Shenzhou 10 spacecraft. Liftoff from the Jiquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia occurred at 5:38 p.m. local time (9:38 UTC). Shenzhou 10 is expected to dock with Tiangong 1, China's first space station, this Thursday as part of a 15-day mission.

Liftoff of Shenzhou 10

Xinhua News Agency

Liftoff of Shenzhou 10
A Long March 2F rocket carrying Shenzhou 10 lifts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia, China on June 11, 2013.

Chinese launches incorporate a lot of great live camera feeds. At 2:40 into the following video, the launch abort system is jettisoned. You can clearly see a puff of exhaust encompassing the Long March before the tower tumbles away. At 3:14, the add-on boosters are jettisoned, followed shortly thereafter by stage one separation. Payload fairing separation—or as one mission graphic calls it, “fairing throwing”—occurs at 4:11. Fairing throwing may be a phrase resulting from an imperfect Chinese-to-English translation, but I like it. 

At 10:12 on the video, you can hear a distinct "thud" as Shenzhou separates from the Long March’s second stage. It’s possible this is just a communications artifact caused by the separation, but it sounds a lot like natural audio. It reminds me of the sound Chris Hadfield recorded when Soyuz TMA-08M docked with the ISS in March. Immediately after the separation, Shenzhou appears to execute an avoidance burn, which you can see on the rear-facing camera. 

The three astronauts aboard Shenzhou 10 are Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping. Nie is the mission commander, having flown aboard Shenzhou 6 in October 2005. This is the first spaceflight for Zhang and Wang. 

Soaring Shenzhou

Xinhau News Agency

Soaring Shenzhou
Shenzhou 10 soars into the sky atop a Long March 2F rocket, carrying Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Zhang Xiaoguang and Wang Yaping.

Tiangong 1 only has a shelf life of two years. The space station, launched in 2011, is expected to be deorbited in three months. It has seemingly served China well as a testbed for future space technologies, which include a much larger space station expected to be built around the end of the decade. To see if you might be able to catch a glimpse of Tiangong 1 this week with Shenzhou 10 in pursuit, check Heavens Above for your area.

The crew of Shenzhou 10

Xinhau News Agency

The crew of Shenzhou 10
Shenzhou 10 crewmembers Wang Yaping (left), Zhang Xiaoguang (center) and Nie Haisheng (right) attend a "setting out" ceremony prior to launch on June 11, 2013.

Read more: Chinese human spaceflight

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Jason Davis

Journalist and Digital Editor for The Planetary Society
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