Jason Davis • Jun 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.
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.
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.
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