Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Report: Chinese ready to test enhanced manned craft

Posted: July 4, 2000

The first Shenzhou lifts off atop a Long March rocket last November.
China is nearing readiness to launch a much more high-tech version of its older Shenzhou spacecraft, published news reports say.

The Shenzhou was launched last November on mission that closely resembled a manned spaceflight. It completed 14 orbits of Earth before landing back in Inner Mongolia.

The new craft weighs over 200 pounds less than Shenzhou and is designed to carry up to three "taikonauts" -- the Chinese designation for astronauts or cosmonauts. The new spacecraft also features new panels that cover exposed wiring.

Scientists and engineers are making final preparations to the craft. Also, potential taikonauts are already in training, a Chinese-language newspaper reported Monday.

Many Western analysts in the field say that China could very well launch an orbital manned mission before this year is out. A recent report by the U.S. Department of Defense said: "Beijing is still aiming for a possible first manned launch by 2001."

China has reportedly been working on their manned program since as early at 1992. Manned space operations in China continue to get a high priority, the DoD report said.

Even though one of the major reasons for funding the program is for national pride and political prestige, manned spaceflight could advance Chinese military space operations.