BDS, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System from China

China launches 23rd BeiDou satellite into space – CCTV News – English

China eyes Silk Road countries for its Beidou satellite system

18 satellites to launch for BDS by 2018

China on Thursday vowed national efforts to complete its Beidou satellite navigation system to serve global users by 2020, with priority going to countries involved in the new Silk Road initiative.

The current goal of developing China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) is to “provide basic services to countries along the land and maritime Silk Roads and in neighboring regions by 2018, and to complete the constellation deployment of 35 satellites by 2020 to provide services to global users,” said a white paper released Thursday by the State Council Information Office.

A “globalized” BDS would have “positive and practical significance” in terms of connectivity around the globe, especially the interconnection between China and Southeast Asian countries under the Silk Road plan, known as the Belt and Road initiative, Huang Jun, a professor at the School of Aeronautic Science and Engineering at Beihang University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

In line with the Belt and Road initiative, China will jointly build satellite navigation augmentation systems with relevant nations and promote international applications of navigation technologies, the white paper states.

To fulfill the 2018 goal, the country plans to launch some 18 satellites for the BDS by 2018, Ran Chengqi, BDS spokesperson, told a press conference on Thursday.

“In priority Chinese cities such as Beijing and Urumqi in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, as well as low latitude countries like Thailand, the BDS is capable of offering a positioning accuracy of better than five meters,” said Ran, who is also director of China’s Satellite Navigation System Management Office.

Since 2015, the country has sent up seven more satellites into space in support of the BDS, including five navigation satellites and two backup satellites, Ran added, citing Sunday’s launch of the BDS’ 23rd satellite – a backup satellite – as an example.

In 2020, the BDS might offer different positioning accuracy choices and could provide centimeter-level accuracy under certain requirements, said Lu Weijun, a BDS expert at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications.

Unique features

Despite being a late starter compared with the US-developed GPS, China’s BDS has unique features, Huang said, citing the BDS short-message communication service as an example.

“The short-message communication service is mainly useful in places with insufficient ground and mobile communication capabilities, such as deserts, seas and disaster areas where communication facilities have been destroyed,” Lu told the Global Times.

More than 40,000 fishing vessels along China’s coastline have been equipped with the BDS application terminals, Ran said, adding that they also provided better communication for islands near the coastline.

The BDS short-message communication service is mainly handled by five Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites, Lu said. Located above China, the five GEO satellites mainly serve a coverage area of Chinese territories and the Asia-Pacific region” and “could be used to locally enhance the signal in wartime, when other satellites might have been closed.”

An independently designed global navigation and positioning network would also contribute to national security, Huang said.

Industrial chain

China is developing chips, modules and other basic products based on the BDS and other compatible systems, and fostering an independent BDS industrial chain, the white paper noted.

“By the end of April, the BDS technology has been applied to more than 24 million terminals and over 18 million mobile phones,” Ran said.

It is expected that by the end of this year, up to 50 million mobile phones will have been installed with domestic chips that will be compatible with three satellite navigation systems, namely the BDS, GPS and Russia’s GLONASS, Wang Hansheng, vice president of Olink Star, a Beijing-based company that makes navigation satellite system products, told the Global Times.

By Ding Xuezhen Source:Global Times


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China launches probe and rover to moon

China Lunar Probe_Change-3_Long March B3
The Long March-3B carrier rocket carrying China’s Chang’e-3 lunar probe blasts off from the launch pad at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, Dec. 2, 2013. It will be the first time for China to send a spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body, where it will conduct surveys on the moon. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

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Video: Chang´e lunar probe launch success CCTV News – CNTV English

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China launched the Chang’e-3 lunar probe with the country’s first moon rover aboard early on Monday, marking a significant step toward deep space exploration.

The probe’s carrier, an enhanced Long March-3B rocket, blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 1:30 a.m.

Chang’e-3 is expected to land on the moon in mid-December to become China’s first spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

It is also the first moon lander launched in the 21st century.

The probe entered the earth-moon transfer orbit as scheduled, with a perigee of 200 kilometers and apogee of 380,000 kilometers.

“The probe has already entered the designated orbit,” said Zhang Zhenzhong, director of the launch center in Xichang. “I now announce the launch was successful.”

“We will strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation,” he said.

Amid efforts to promote lunar probe campaign among the public, the Chinese Academy of Sciences opened a microblog account for the Chang’e-3 mission, attracting more than 260,000 fans who continuously posted congratulatory comments.

The probe’s soft-landing is the most difficult task during the mission, said Wu Weiren, the lunar program’s chief designer. “This will be a breakthrough for China to realize zero-distance observation and survey on the moon.”

More than 80 percent of technologies and products of the mission are newly developed, he said.

The Chang’e-3 will lay a solid foundation for manned lunar orbit mission and manned lunar landing. China has not revealed the roadmap for its manned mission to land on the moon.

So far, only the United States and the former Soviet Union have soft landed on the moon.

Chang’e-3, comprising a lander and a moon rover called “Yutu” (Jade Rabbit), presents a modern scientific version of an ancient Chinese myth that a lady called Chang’e, after swallowing magic pills, took her pet “Yutu” to fly toward the moon, where she became a goddess, and has been living there with the white rabbit ever since.

Tasks for the moon rover include surveying the moon’s geological structure and surface substances, while looking for natural resources.

A telescope will be set up on the moon, for the first time in human history, to observe the plasmasphere over the Earth and survey the moon surface through radar.

The lunar probe mission is of great scientific and economic significance, said Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the lunar probe.

The mission has contributed to the development of a number of space technologies and some of them can be applied in civilian sector, he said.

Chang’e-3 is part of the second phase of China’s lunar program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to the Earth. It follows the success of the Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010.

After orbiting for 494 days and intentionally crashing onto the lunar surface, Chang’e-1 sent back 1.37 terabytes of data, producing China’s first complete moon picture.

Launched on Oct. 1, 2010, Chang’e-2 verified some crucial technologies for Chang’e-3 and reconnoitered the landing area. It also made the world’s first lunar holographic image with a resolution of 7 meters.

Currently, Chang’e-2 is more than 60 million km away from the Earth and has become China’s first man-made asteroid. It is heading for deep space and is expected to travel as far as 300 million km from the Earth, the longest voyage of any Chinese spacecraft.

China is likely to realize the third step of its lunar program in 2017, which is to land a lunar probe on moon, release a moon rover and return the probe to the Earth.

The moon is considered the first step to explore a further extraterrestrial body, such as the Mars.

If successful, the Chang’e-3 mission will mean China has the ability of in-situ exploration on an extraterrestrial body, said Sun Huixian, deputy engineer-in-chief in charge of the second phase of China’s lunar program.

“China’s space exploration will not stop at the moon,” he said. “Our target is deep space.”

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third country after Russia and the United States to achieve independent manned space travel.

Despite fast progress of the lunar mission, China is still a newcomer in this field.

The former Soviet Union first landed its probe on the moon on Jan. 31, 1966, while the United States first sent human beings to the moon in 1969.

About a day before the launch of Chang’e-3, India’s maiden Mars orbiter, named Mangalyaan, left the Earth early on Sunday for a 300-day journey to the Red Planet.

Chinese space scientists are looking forward to cooperation with other countries, including the country’s close neighbor India.

Li Benzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s lunar program, told media earlier that China’s space exploration does not aim at competition.

“We are open in our lunar program, and cooperation from other countries is welcome,” he said. “We hope to explore and use space for more resources to promote human development.” – Xinhua

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China set to launch bigger space programme


This photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan Space Centre shows the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft preparing to link with the Tiangong-1 module on June 24. China will deploy bigger spacecraft for longer missions following the success of its Shenzhou-9 voyage, allowing it to build a manned space station and potentially put a man on the moon, experts said.

China will deploy bigger spacecraft for longer missions following the success of its Shenzhou-9 voyage, allowing it to build a manned space station and potentially put a man on the moon, experts said.

The 13-day voyage of Shenzhou-9, which returned to Earth on Friday, was China’s longest-ever and included the nation’s first woman astronaut among its three crew members.

In another first for China’s 20-year programme, which has cost more than $6 billion, the crew also achieved the country’s first-ever manual docking with an , the Tiangong-1, a high-speed and high-risk .

In the next mission that will occur at the end of this year or in 2013, Shenzhou-10’s astronauts will link up with Tiangong-1 in a similar flight, said Morris Jones, an Australian space expert focusing on China’s programme.

The mission will be the last docking with the Tiangong-1, which was put into orbit in September last year.

Morris said no more would go on Tiangong-1 after the next mission. Then, in a few years, China will launch a more sophisticated version, the Tiangong-2.

When that comes into play, the dimensions of China’s space programme will grow significantly, said Isabelle Sourbes-Verger, a specialist on China’s space programme at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research.

She said future vehicles would allow for larger space modules, longer missions and more powerful launch vehicles,

The 13-day voyage of Shenzhou-9 was China's longest-ever space mission and included the nation's first woman astronaut

This photo of the giant screen at the Jiuquan Space Centre shows Chinese astronauts Liu Wang (C), Jing Haipeng (L) and Liu Yang in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft as it prepares to link with the Tiangong-1 module on June 24. The crew achieved the country’s first-ever manual docking with an orbital module, the Tiangong-1, a high-speed and high-risk manoeuvre.

“Longer periods in space — one to three months — cannot take place unless there is a vehicle bigger than the 8.5 tonne Tiangong-1, which also did not appear to have a resupply system,” she told AFP.

“Tiangong-1… will be followed by two other versions with more powerful ‘life support’ systems… and will possibly be capable of docking with a second vehicle.”

China is also developing the Long March 5, a next-generation that will be needed if the nation hopes to place a bigger space station in orbit, said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the US Naval War College.

“Launching that space station… depends on the successful development of a new heavy launch vehicle, the Long March 5,” she told AFP.

“I would expect to see this large space station in within the next 10 years — which could make it the de facto replacement for the now orbiting International Space Station (ISS),” said Johnson-Freese.

She was referring to the life expectancy of the ISS — run by the American, Russian, Japanese, European and Canadian space agencies — which is likely to function only to around 2020.

China has never been invited to join the ISS.

Sourbes-Verger said further advances in China’s space station programme would “guarantee” that the country plays a major role should any eventual cooperation with the ISS take place.

To realise its ambitions beyond 2020, which may include sending a man to the moon, China has also been advancing its “Chang’e” exploration programme. This entails satellite launches to explore the lunar surface.

“Likely within the next five to eight years China will also make a decision as to whether to pursue a human lunar mission,” Johnson-Freese said.

Meanwhile the United States, after retiring its space shuttle fleet, is also developing a new rocket and technologies to place a man on an asteroid or on Mars, she said.

“Both countries are moving forward, but not in a competitive path,” she said.

China’s space programme remains far behind the Americans. This was highlighted by the fact that the manual space docking trumpeted by the Chinese on the Shenzhou-9 mission was done by the Americans in the 1960s.

“If there is a space race going on, I think it is in Asia,” Johnson-Freese said, pointing out that India had also set ambitious goals.

July 1, 2012 by Boris Cambreleng

(c) 2012 AFP_PHYS.ORG


First lady taikonaut and pals plunge into the dirt after space mating

Chinese Astronauts return to Earth safely; Success on road to deep space!

Module re-entry process: Shenzhou-9’s journey back to earth CCTV News – CNTV English.

After thirteen days in space, the astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-9 spaceship will return to the Earth.

The first stage of the process is for the re-entry module to separate from the orbital capsule.

The propulsion module will later separate from the re-entry module, after it’s propelled it to a lower altitude of 140 kilometers. The re-entry module will then adjust its position before making its entry into the atmosphere. Well, as we can see, according to accurate calculation, the module is to land at Siziwang Banner, in central Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Let’s see this simple illustration. The module will pass through the so-called “black out area”. At this stage, communication is impossible, due to high levels of friction with the atmosphere, causing extreme temperatures. When the capsule is out of the black-out area, several parachutes will be released one by one, to gradually slow the module’s descent. When the vehicle gets below 10km, the heat shield will be jettisoned. At 1 meter above the ground, 4 small engines will ignite to reduce the speed to a safe range for landing. Once on the ground; the re-entry module will communicate with the control center to show its location, so rescue teams find it as soon as possible.

The completion of the Shenzhou-9 mission will bring China one step closer to building its own fully-fledged space station by 2020. China’s permanent space station is expected to weigh about 60 tons, so it require rockets such as Long March 5 rockets to send different parts into space. At the hub of China’s future space station will be the Core Module. It will control the station’s altitude, propulsion, and life support systems for the astronauts.

At one end of the core module is a small connecting chamber. On each side of this are the two Laboratory Modules. Experiments can be carried out both inside and outside these modules, testing such things as exposure to cosmic rays, a vacuum environment, and solar winds. On the other end of the space station is the cargo delivery module, which will carry supplies, equipment and energy stocks. Back on the other side, attached to the connecting chamber will be the Shenzhou spacecraft which will travel between the space station and the earth. China’s space station is an ambitious and complicated structure but it’s still only about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station.

Currently flying at an orbit of around 400 kilometers above the earth is the International Space Station. The US and Russia have led the design and construction of the ISS, with 16 other countries also contributing to the project. China’s main contribution to the ISS is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. It is a particle physics experimental instrument designed to search for anti-matter and dark matter. These two mysteries have been puzzling scientists for decades according to theory, they should exist.  But so far, no direct evidence has been found. It’s planned that the ISS will plunge back into the ocean in 2028.

By that time, if China’s space program goes according to plan, China’s space complex will then be the only space station orbiting the earth.

The Success on road to deep space!

BEIJING, June 29 (Xinhua) — The return of the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft to Earth Friday morning marked the end of a 13-day journey through space for three Chinese astronauts.

But it also marked the beginning of a new journey for China as it inches closer to its goal of building a space station.

China’s space program has accomplished in 20 years’ time the same tasks that took developed nations nearly half a century to accomplish, including manned space flights, space walks and a manned space docking procedure.

The recent successful docking of the Shenzhou-9 and Tiangong-1 lab module marks a new height for Chinese space exploration, as well as a new leap forward for national rejuvenation.

China’s space exploration took a long time to ramp up. In 1992, 43 years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the country decided to establish its manned space program.

Scientific policies have facilitated the program and helped it develop comprehensively and sustainably. The aerospace industry was given a larger role in the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) and authorities have taken pains to implement every step of the manned space program with great care.

The success of the Shenzhou-9 has demonstrated the power of China’s collective wisdom and capability. About 110 research institutions have directly participated in the manned space program thus far, with more than 3,000 institutions and units coordinating their efforts.

The mission has also demonstrated the success of socialism, showing that it has the political advantage of accumulating wisdom and resources to achieve great things.

Facing limitless space, China’s space program is only just beginning. The country will face challenges on its road to rejuvenation, but the success of the mission has boosted national confidence and shown China’s people that the country’s space program will have a bright future. –  Xinhua

Touchdown! Chinese Space Capsule With 3 Astronauts Returns to Earth

by Staff
Date: 28 June 2012 Time: 10:06 PM ET
This photograph of a China CCTV broadcast shows the Shenzhou 9 space capsule lying on its side after landing in an autonomous region of China in Inner Mongolia on June 29, 2012 Beijing time (10 p.m. June 28 EDT) to end a 13-day mission to the Tiangong 1 s
This photograph of a China CCTV broadcast shows the Shenzhou 9 space capsule lying on its side after landing in an autonomous region of China in Inner Mongolia on June 29, 2012 Beijing time (10 p.m. June 28 EDT) to end a 13-day mission to the Tiangong 1 space lab module.

Three Chinese astronauts returned to Earth Thursday (June 28) after 13 days in space on a historic mission that made their country only the third nation ever to successfully dock a manned spacecraft to another in orbit.

China’s Shenzhou 9 space capsule landed at about10 p.m. EDT (10 a.m. Friday, June 29 Beijing time) in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. To prepare for their journey home, the space crew — which included China’s first female astronaut Liu Yang — separated the Shenzhou 9 capsule its target, the Tiangong 1 prototype space module, on Wednesday (June 27).

Their landing was broadcast live on China’s state-run CCTV television network, showing the capsule streaking through the atmosphere like a meteor, deploying its main parachute, then making the final landing and rolling over on its side in a rough touchdown.

“We fulfilled the first manned manual docking,” mission commander Jing Haipeng told CCTV reporters after exiting the Shenzhou 9 capsule. His comments in Chinese were translated into English by CCTV. “For the country and people all across the country, thank you for your concerns.”  [Photos of China’s Shenzhou 9 Mission]

Jing and crewmates Liu Yang and Liu Wang appeared to be in good health after their space mission. The trio wore broad smiles and waved to cameras after leaving their spacecraft, but did sit in reclined chairs to help ease their adaptation back to Earth’s gravity after nearly two weeks in weightlessness.

Shortly after the landing, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed the Shenzhou 9 mission a complete success.

“This manned docking mission of Tiangong 1 and Shenzhou 9 marks a large milestone, a major breakthrough for China to master the space docking technology,” Wen said while reading a statement. “And also, it marks a decisive step forward on China’s second step on its space strategy.”

Chinese astronaut Jing Haipeng, commander of the Shenzhou 9 mission, salutes after exiting the space capsule following landing in Inner Mongolia autonomous mission on June 28, 2012.
CREDIT: China Central Television/CCTV

China’s big space leap

China’s Shenzhou 9 mission, which included successful displays of manual and automatic dockings, represented an important leap forward for China’s space program. In addition to being China’s longest space mission to date, it also tested technology vital for the country’s goal of building space station in orbit by the year 2020.

“Chinese astronauts have their own home in space now,” Jing told China’s President Hu Jintao on Tuesday (June 26) during a special call according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. “We are proud of our country!”

And while the orbital linkups are important technological achievements for China, the mission also carried a wider social impact because it included the country’s first female astronaut: the 33-year-old Liu Yang.

“It was like a home in Tiangong, and I feel very happy and proud of my country,” Liu Yang told reporters after landing.

Jing, the commander, is China’s first veteran astronaut to fly in space twice. The third crewmember, Liu Wang, served as the Shenzhou 9 docking pilot.

“It feels really good to feel the ground and to be back home,” Liu Wang said.

The Shenzhou 9 mission, which launched into space on June 16, accomplished China’s first manned space docking, after the spacecraft robotically docked to Tiangong 1 on June 18. Several days later, on June 24, the astronauts backed away from the orbiting module and parked their Shenzhou 9 spacecraft once more, demonstrating manual control over the procedure as well.


The successful linkups made China only the third country, after the United States and Russia, to accomplish manned dockings in orbit.

The Shenzhou 9 mission, as well as experiments performed aboard Tiangong 1 throughout the flight, tested technologies that will help China fulfill its goal of building a 60-ton space station in orbit by 2020.

“The data will help us improve technologies for astronauts’ future, long-term stays in a space station,” said Chen Shanguang, chief commander of the mission’s astronaut system, according to Xinhua.

China is not a member nation of the $100 billion International Space Station in low-Earth orbit, a roughly 430-ton orbiting outpost that is jointly operated by more than a dozen countries.

But Chinese officials have outlined an ambitious space program for the nation, which includes collecting samples from the moon and robotically returning them to Earth before landing astronauts on the lunar surface.

The Shenzhou 9 mission is China’s fourth manned spaceflight. Previous expeditions were launched in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

The Tiangong 1 test module was launched into orbit in September 2011. In November, a robotic spacecraft, called Shenzhou 8, completed the country’s first unmanned space docking. According to Chinese officials, Tiangong 1 has performed well, and could play host to another crew in the near future.

“Based on current conditions, the service of Tiangong 1 can be extended,” said He Yu, chief commander of the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, reported Xinhua. “It has consumed less than one-fourth of its fuel and no back-up systems have been used.”

Depending on its condition, the module could remain in orbit as China continues its space station construction efforts.

“If Tiangong 1 was in perfect shape, it could work side by side with Tiangong 2, which will be launched in the future,” He said.

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China will launch three astronauts, including a woman on Saturday

The very latest on Saturday’s launch of the historic Shenzhou-9 space mission. Both the crew and the launch time have been announced by a spokesman for China’s manned space program.


The Shenzhou-9 spaceship will be launched at 18:37 Beijing time on Saturday June 16th. The crew will consist of PLA astronauts Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, and the first ever Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang.

Astronaut Jing Haipeng.

The Shenzhou-9 is due to perform China’s first ever manned space docking mission with the Tiangong-1 orbiting module. It will be launched on board China’s Long March 2F rocket carrier.

All preparations have been completed at the launch site, and all systems are ready for the launch. The astronauts are said to be in good condition and are doing their final preparation work. The Shenzhou-9 mission headquarters is due to hold a press conference this afternoon, with the crew members due to meet the press. We’ll bring you full coverage of that as it happens.

Astronaut Liu Wang.
Astronaut Liu Yang.

Liu Yang, China's first woman astronaut waves as she leaves after attending a meet the press event at the Jiuquan satellite launch center near Jiuquan in western China's Gansu province, Friday, June 15, 2012. (AP / Ng Han Guan)

Liu Yang, China’s first woman astronaut waves as she leaves after attending a meet the press event at the Jiuquan satellite launch center near Jiuquan in western China’s Gansu province, Friday, June 15, 2012. (AP / Ng Han Guan)

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China’s astronauts Jing Haipeng (C), Liu Wang (R) and Liu Yang meet with media in Jiuquan, northwest China’s Gansu Province, June 15, 2012. The three astronauts will board Shenzhou-9 spacecraft on Saturday to fulfill China’s first manned space docking mission. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

JIUQUAN, June 15 (Xinhua) — China’s first female astronaut Liu Yang, together with her two male crew mates Jing Haipeng and Liu Wang, met the media on Friday.

The three astronauts will board the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft on Saturday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China to fulfill China’s first manned space docking mission.

“I am grateful to the motherland and the people. I feel honored to fly into the space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens,” said Liu Yang.

She said that to be an astronaut, one has to obtain a lot of theoretical knowledge, go through very challenging space living environment training and survive examinations on operation skills with no error.

“The sense of mission and responsibility as well as the passion for aerospace undertakings are the source of courage to overcome difficulties,” she said.

“When I was a pilot, I flew in the sky. Now I am an astronaut, I will fly in the space. That will be a higher and farther flight,” Liu said.

She said many tasks have been arranged for this space trip. “Aside from fulfilling the tasks, I want to experience the fantastic environment in space and appreciate the beautiful Earth and our homeland from the space.”

She said she will keep a detailed record of her feelings and experiences and share with scientists and future astronauts when she comes back. She also expressed her gratefulness to all the people.

“I will live up to your expectations and work with my teammates to fulfil this space mission,” she said.

All three crew members are former pilots of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). They are all members of the Communist Party of China.

Enlisted in the army in 1997, Liu 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. She is now an air force major.

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-9.

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China to send its first woman into space

June 15, 2012 by NG HAN GUAN , PHYS.COM

China said Friday a female astronaut will be among the three-person team on board the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft


File photo of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force women fighter pilots at a PLA base in Beijing. China said Friday a female astronaut will be among the three-person team on board the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, which will launch on Saturday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

(AP) — China will launch three astronauts, including a mother of one who flies transport planes, to live and work on a space station for about a week, a major step in its goal of becoming only the third nation with a permanent base orbiting Earth.

Liu Yang, a 34-year-old, volleyball-playing air force pilot, and two male colleagues are expected to be launched Saturday in the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft that will dock with the bus-sized Tiangong 1 space module now orbiting 322 kilometers (200 miles) above the Earth.

Two of the astronauts will live and work inside the module to test its life-support systems while the third will remain in the capsule to deal with unexpected emergencies. State media have said the mission will last about 10 days before the astronauts travel back to Earth in the capsule that will land on the Western Chinese grasslands with the help of parachutes.

Success in docking — and in living and working aboard the Tiangong 1 — would smooth the way for more ambitious projects, such as sending a man to the moon, and add to China’s international prestige in line with its growing economic prowess.

If completed, the mission will put China alongside the United States and Russia as the only countries to have independently maintained space stations, a huge boost to Beijing’s ambitions of becoming a space power. It already is in the exclusive three-nation club to have launched a spacecraft with astronauts on its own.

The mission “demonstrates China’s commitment to its long-term human spaceflight plan,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on the Chinese space program at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island.

She said its success “will demonstrate the technological capabilities requisite for a future permanent space station.”

Still, that is some years away. The Tiangong 1 is only a prototype, and the plan is to eventually replace it with a permanent — and bigger — space station due for completion around 2020.

The permanent station will weigh about 60 tons, slightly smaller than NASA’s Skylab of the 1970s and about one-sixth the size of the 16-nation International Space Station.

Analysts say China’s exclusion from the ISS, largely on objections from the United States, was one of the key spurs for it to pursue an independent program 20 years ago, which reaches a high point with Saturday’s launch.

The three astronauts will conduct scientific and engineering tasks on Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, which was put into orbit in September.

Morris Jones, an Australian writer and space analyst, said they will also conduct experiments, likely including physiological tests on themselves, in anticipation of longer stays in future.

China first launched a man into space in 2003 followed by a two-man mission in 2005 and a three-man trip in 2008 that featured China’s first space walk.

In November 2011, the unmanned Shenzhou 8, successfully docked with the Tiangong 1 by remote control — twice to show the durability of the system.

While operating with limited resources, China’s space program is a source of huge national pride and enjoys top-level political and military backing. This has left it largely immune from the budgetary pressures affecting NASA, although China doesn’t say what it spends on the program.

The selection of the first female astronaut is giving the program an additional publicity boost. State media have gushed this week about Liu, pointing out that she once successfully landed her plane after a bird strike disabled one of its engines.

As with China’s other female astronaut candidates, Liu is married and has a child, a requirement because the space program worries that exposure to space radiation may affect fertility.

The Associated Press.

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