Project 921 Shenzhou
China's first experimental spacecraft "Shenzhou" (meaning "Magic Vessel" or "God Ship" in Chinese), completed a 21-hour space voyage on 21 November 1999. Launched atop a new model Long March 2F booster, the unmanned spacecraft consists of propulsion, return and orbit modules.
China and Piloted Space Programs
Since the late 1970's the PRC has seriously planned for the eventual flight of Chinese astronauts, but by the early 1990s shifting program priorities had resulted in only preliminary work in the areas of spacecraft design and space medicine. Small teams of Chinese had undergone some astronaut training, and designs for manned spacecraft ranging from simple capsules to space shuttles to space stations had all been drawn up. The 1984 prospect of a Chinese astronaut flying on the US Space Shuttle never materialized (Reference 65).
A 1978 decision to embark on a Chinese manned space program was short-lived, although astronaut training and space suit design were initiated (References 66-70). By the mid-1980's PRC began to talk about building a manned Chinese space station in apparent competition with the US and the USSR programs (References 71-76). Although discussions of sophisticated space shuttles were offered, the near-term goal appeared to be a Gemini-class capsule launched by an expendable booster with a crew of 2-4 astronauts. In 1994 the PRC held discussions with Russian aerospace officials for the purpose of acquiring Soyuz technology to be adapted to a Chinese recoverable capsule for launch by a CZ-2E booster, perhaps as early as the year 2002. The launch site may be a new facility reported in 1992 to be under construction 200 km from Jiuquan (References 77-82).
In early 1999 the first piloted Chinese spaceflight was widely anticipated to be attempted in October 1999, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People"s Republic. On 18 March 1998 Ma Xingrui, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) stated (Reference 159)that:
"China is striving to make breakthroughs in manned space flight technology at the end of this century or the beginning of the next century, and will launch small lunar explorer when
Two Chinese astronauts, Wu Jie and Li Qinglong [also transliterated as Wu Tse and Li Tsinlung], participated in a two-year training program at the Russian Yuri Gagarin Center beginning in November 1996. And work on a recoverable 20-ton spacecraft at the Shanghai Academy of Space Technology is said to be nearing completion
(Reference 160). Work under the code name "Project 921" was reported to envision two unmanned test flights in for 1998. As with the Russian the Soyuz the Chinese spacecraft will include a reentry capsule and an orbital life module, but unlike Soyuz it does not include an approach and docking system (Reference 161).
In August 1999 Wang Xingqing, general designer with the Chinese Academy of Launch-Vehicle
Technology, stated that that first Chinese human space flight would take place around 2005.
In June 1999 images purporting to be those of a version of China's Long March booster capable of launching a piloted spacecraft were made public. While some "enhancement" may have taken place, there was evidently some basis in truth of these images of the Long March 2F.
The PRC has also expressed interest in joining the International Space Station, although such cooperation is unlikely before the facility reaches its initial full operational capability in 2002 (References 83-84). Plans for a Sanger class, two-stage manned space shuttle were under consideration in the early 1980's, but the demanding program does not appear to have a high priority (Reference 85).
- Few Humans Make It To the Final Frontier in 1999, As China Prepares to Join Astronaut Club By Paul Hoversten space.com 27 December 1999 -- Pike says "I'm assuming not only will we see some activity out of the Chinese but it's going to be an eventful year with the station because once it achieves permanent occupancy we will have established a toehold in space and we will not retreat from it."
- A divine lift-off for China The Economist 27 November 1999 -- As Mr Pike points out, perhaps it is better to have a China that sees spaceships, rather than just missiles, as the coin of international prestige, and as an occupation for its engineers.
- China to send man to space People's Daily November 23, 1999 -- China will need to launch fewer unmanned space flights than what the United States and Russia undertook before it will be able to send its astronauts into space, a senior Chinese space expert claimed.
- CHINA / SPACE Voice of America 22 November 1999 -- : China's national pride over the weekend's successful first space launch was reflected Monday in the media throughout the country.
- CHINA LAUNCHES UNMANNED SPACECRAFT CBS MORNING NEWS 22 November 1999 -- Mr. PIKE: The Chinese-piloted space program today is basically where we were in the early 1960s. They have nothing resembling our space shuttle, and they're obviously very far away from being able to do Apollo.
- China moves a step closer to a manned space mission USA TODAY November 22, 1999 "They're doing their homework, as they should. I'd assume they'll do one more flight test in December and then probably in the first half of next year do the manned flight," says Charles Vick, an expert on China's program at the Federation of American Scientists
- China Plans to Join an Exclusive Club
Newsweek, November 29, 1999 -- Beijing's most compelling reason for pursuing manned space flight is to prove its "big-power status." Says John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists: "Putting a man in space with its own rockets visibly demonstrates China has stood up."
- China fired up to join superpowers in space
BY SETH BORENSTEIN San Jose Mercury News November 22, 1999 -- ``The spacecraft is a Russian spacecraft with Chinese characteristics,'' said John Pike, space policy director for the Federation of American Scientists.
- Chinese Test Craft For Manned Orbits By Michael Laris Washington Post November 22, 1999 -- "The fact that they were successful is a major step forward," said Charles Vick, an expert on space issues at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists who said China could send an animal into space as early as next month and a person before the middle of next year. The Chinese tested "everything but having a man on board . . . The launch vehicle and the spacecraft worked together as they should."
- China Successfully Launches First Experimental Spacecraft People's Daily Sunday, November 21, 1999 - China's first experimental spacecraft, part of the country's manned space flight program, touched down in the central Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China at 3:41 a.m. (Beijing time) on November 21, successfully concluding the first flight of the system.
- Top Chinese Authorities Commend Successful Experiment of First Spaceflight People's Daily Sunday, November 21, 1999 - According to the telegram, the success marks a new step for China's space industry and is of great significance to boosting the country's high-technology development and arousing the enthusiasm of all ethnic groups.
- 21-hour voyage of China's first spacecraft successful (Xinhua) 21 November 1999 -- The spacecraft was landed with loadfulls of scientific experiment data, after a space voyage of 21 full hours for China's first spacecraft.
- Expert on China's space program
(Xinhua) 21 November 1999 -- It is significant for China to develop manned spaceflight technology, the expert said, as it will strengthen the country's comprehensive national strength, promote the development of science and technology, enhance national prestige, boost the nation's sense of pride and cohesiveness.
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66. Orlando Sentinel Star, Orlando, 21 January 1979, p. 4-D.
67. "China Beginning Manned Space Effort", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 28 May 1979, pp. 26-27.
68. L. Mathews, "China Trains Its First Astronauts", Los Angeles Times, 13 January 1980, p. 18.
69. "Astronaut Candidates Training in China for Future Missions", Aviation Week and Space Technology,
4 February 1980, p. 57.
70. "Chinese Astronauts Train in Simulators", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 26 January 1981, pp. 62-63.
71. "Chinese Space Station, As 'Head of a Dragon' Would Boost Economy", Aerospace Daily, 10 December
72. Liu Ji-yuan and Min Gui-rong, "The Progress of China's Astronautics", U.S. Space Foundation Symposium, Colorado Springs, 22 January 1987.
73. "China Plans Space Station/Cargo Vehicle", Defense Daily, 11 June 1987, p. 239.
74. C. Covault, "China Developing Technology for Future Manned Space Flight", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 29 June 1987, pp. 22-23.
75. "Chinese Studies on Space Station Begin", Defense Daily, 28 September 1987, p. 159.
76. Y. Chen, "China's Space Policy - A Historical Review", Space Policy, May 1991, pp. 116-128.
77. "China Eyes Manned Space Capsule", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 10 December 1990, p. 24.
78.Zhonqguo Tongxon She News Agency, 31 October 1992.
79. A. Lawler, "Chinese Propose Building Capsule To Orbit Astronauts",
Space News, 31 January - 6 February 1994, pp. 1, 20.
80. A. Lawler and B. Opall, "Chinese Consider Buying Russian Soyuz Technology", Space News, 11 -17 July 1994,
81. Interfax News Agency, 3 March 1995.
82. ITAR-TASS News Agency, 14 March 1995.
83. "PRC Evaluating Possible Participation in Space Station", Aviation Week and Space Technology, 26 May 1986, pp.21-23.
84. "Chinese Officials Probe Potential Station Role", Space News, 31 October - 6 November 1994, p. 2.
85. Z. Huang, "Fully Reusable Launch Vehicle with Airbreathing Booster", IAF-83-376, 34th International Astronautical Federation, 10-15 October 1983.
- 159 "China: PRC Plans To Launch Manned Spacecraft, Lunar Explorer," FBIS-CHI-98-077 : 18 Mar 1998
- 160 "China: China Races To Put Man Into Space : FBIS-CHI-98-133 : 13 May 1998
- 161 "China: China Plans Manned Space Flight in 1999" : FBIS-CHI-97-275 : 2 Oct 1997
Sources and Resources
Implemented by Christina Lindborg, 1997 Scoville Fellow
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Updated Friday, January 07, 2000 5:28:12 PM