Human Space Launch
Orbital Human Space Launch
China continued steady development of its crewed space program in 2013 with the launch of the Shenzhou 10 mission. Shenzhou 10 carried three taikonauts into LEO and docked with the Tiangong-1 space station prototype, where taikonauts spent two weeks conducting experiments and practicing docking maneuvers between the two craft. This was the longest Chinese space mission, and it also featured the second female taikonaut. At this stage in its space program, China is developing the techniques and technologies necessary for a more permanent presence in space, and hopes to begin construction of a multi-module space station by the end of the decade.
In 2003, China became the third nation capable of human spaceflight, with the launch of the Shenzhou 5 mission. Since then, it has flown three additional missions, each one advancing Chinese spaceflight capabilities. So far, all Chinese crewed missions have used the Shenzhou spacecraft, which resembles a larger Russian Soyuz, although the Chinese space program has described the similarity as mostly cosmetic. The Shenzhou spacecraft have entered mass production, moving beyond the status of one-off experimental machines, after the design of Shenzhou 8 was finalized.
In 2003, China became the third nation to achieve orbital human spaceflight. The Long March 2F vehicle and its Shenzhou capsule are similar in design and function to the Soyuz rocket and capsule configuration. In October 2008, China launched Shenzhou 7, whose three-person crew performed the first Chinese extra vehicular activity, or spacewalk. In 2006, the Chinese government updated its China’s Space Activities white paper, which lists potential activities of follow-on Shenzhou missions. These include testing docking procedures, with the eventual objective of creating a space station.
China’s Shenzhou (“Divine Vessel”) launched two taikonauts into orbit in 2005 for a mission lasting more than 115 hours. It was China’s second human launch, following the launch of one taikonaut in October 2003. China’s next human mission is expected to launch in 2007. The Shenzhou capsule bears many design similarities to Russia’s Soyuz reentry crew capsule.
Russia operates the only crewed vehicle currently serving the ISS, and is expected to retain that monopoly through 2018, when the first flights of the new NASA-supported commercially developed vehicles are slated to begin. Russia’s current crewed spacecraft is the Soyuz, a vehicle that made its first flight in 1967 and has been upgraded several times in the ensuing 45 years. Advances in construction techniques and computer technology have resulted in a craft that is more maneuverable, lighter, and has a greater carrying capacity than earlier versions.
Russia has retained the ability to send cosmonauts into orbit since the launch of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, in 1961. Currently, Russia is the only nation ferrying people to and from the ISS. In addition to using its Soyuz spacecraft for ISS transportation, Russia also sells or barters transportation services to individuals and other ISS partner nations.
Russia’s Soyuz is the most frequently launched human-rated vehicle. The Soyuz typically performs five to six missions per year at regular intervals to ferry crew and cargo to the ISS. In the period between retirement of the Space Shuttle and introduction of a new U.S. human-rated launch system, the Soyuz is expected to be the only vehicle able to transport crew members to the space station. Since 2001, the Soyuz has also been used six times to transport private spaceflight participants to and from the ISS under a partnership with the space exploration company, Space Adventures.
The Clipper (Kliper) vehicle, under design by Russia’s Energia, has not yet found a customer. Clipper may become a follow-on to the Soyuz vehicle, and has attracted interest from the European Space Agency (ESA) for ISS access. In 2006, Anatoly Perminov, the director of Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), said the agency planned to start construction of the vehicle in 2012.
Russia’s Soyuz has been the workhorse of Roscosmos, having been in production for more than 40 years. The vehicle’s separated reentry capsule and laboratory module optimize space with a minimum of weight. In 2005, Soyuz took its third space tourist, Gregory Olsen, to the ISS. Currently, the vehicle is used to rotate the crew of the ISS, (a service for which NASA pays), launching to the station twice in 2005.
The space shuttle returned to flight in 2005, ending a two year hiatus that followed the Columbia tragedy. Discovery’s STS-114 crew tested new safety measures and delivered supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Digital cameras installed for the first time on a shuttle flight captured a chunk of foam shed from the external fuel tank.