Chinese Crew to Depart for a Space Station Vacation


Image credit & copyright: Central China Television (CCTV).

Launch Alert!

On Sunday, October 16, 2016 at 23:30 UTC (19:30 EDT) China will launch the beautiful Long March 2F rocket with Shenzhou 11 spacecraft along with two taikonauts from the Jiquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert. Their mission will be to rendezvous, dock with and live onboard the new Tiangong 2 orbital laboratory (still has that new station smell!) for a scheduled 30 days and return to Earth on November 14.  This will be China’s sixth crewed spaceflight.

In usual Chinese fashion, the taikonauts (what we call astronauts and Russia calls cosmonauts) are yet to be named. Their identities will likely be released some time before launch but if history is our guide, then one of the two will have prior spaceflight experience.  The normal three-person crew has been reduced to two in order to accommodate the month long stay onboard Tiangong 2.  Even the exact time of launch is always in question but the above is the currently predicted time and date.

The 47 ft., 20 metric ton, Tiangong 2 “Heavenly Palace” mini space station is a working prototype for the next generation of Chinese space stations and orbits at an altitude of 393 km (244 mi.).

This will be the 13th flight of the Long March 2F (CZ-2F) launch vehicle and the 11th flight of the Shenzhou spacecraft.

Shenzhou 9 crew and capsule.  Credit: CCTV

Shenzhou 9 crew and capsule. Credit: CCTV

Shenzhou “Divine Craft” Spacecraft:

China’s Shenzhou spacecraft at first glance by the unfamiliar eye, would be forgiven if it was mistaken for a Russian Soyuz spacecraft but in fact there’s no relation at all and Shenzhou is slightly larger as well.

The name Shenzhou can have a few meaning variations such as “Divine Craft,” “Divine Vessel” or “Magic boat” and just for fun, there’s an asteroid named after the craft; 8256 Shenzhou.

First uncrewed launched was on November 19, 1999 (Shenzhou 1) and the first crewed launch coming four years later on October 15, 2003 (Shenzhou 5).

Long March 2F (Chang Zheng 2F, CZ-2F or Shenjian) Rocket:

China’s Long March 2F (CZ-2F) rocket is a prominent member of the Long March rocket family and is primarily responsible for human spaceflight (Shenzhou Program) as well as launching Tiangong 1 and 2 mini space stations. The Long March 2F is a two stage, four booster launch vehicle that stands 58.34 m (191.4 ft.) high and is 3.35 m (10.9 ft.) in core diameter.  Liftoff mass for this vehicle is 479,800 kg (480 metric tons) and can deliver a payload of up to 8,400 kg (8.4 metric tons) into low Earth orbit (LEO).

Launch Abort System (crewed launches):

The Long March 2F Launch Abort System can be triggered manually or automatically in the event that taikonauts on board need to be evacuated from the launch vehicle. The launch abort system can be used from T-15 minutes to 160 seconds into flight.

Second Stage:

The Long March 2F second stage is 15.5 m (50.8 ft.) long and 3.4 m (11.1 ft.) in diameter. It is powered by a single YF-25 engine as well as four YF-23 Vernier Jets utilizing Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine for fuel and Nitrogen Tetroxide for the oxidizer and can burn for 300 seconds.

4 Strap-On Boosters:

The Long March 2F utilized four strap-on boosters, each 15.3 m (50 ft.) long and 2.3 m (7.5 ft.) in diameter. They are each powered by a single YF-20B engine utilizing Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine for fuel and Nitrogen Tetroxide for the oxidizer and can burn for 128 seconds.

First Stage (Core Stage):

The Long March 2F core stage is 28.5 m (93.5 ft.) in length and 3.35 m (10.9 ft.) in diameter. It’s powered by four YF-20B main engines utilizing Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine for fuel and Nitrogen Tetroxide for the oxidizer and can burn for 166 seconds.

Watch Live (some of these may work, some may not):

CCTV America:

CCTV Live (English):

CCTV Live (English) (same channel as above but different link):

CCTV America Live News:

CCTV America Twitter:

CCTV America Facebook:

CCTV America YouTube:

CCTV YouTube:

CCTV+ YouTube:

Other Chinese Space Resources (possible live feeds):

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