Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Second test flight of Chinese capsule expected soon

Posted: January 3, 2001

The first Shenzhou capsule lifts off atop a Long March rocket last November.
Amid much speculation regarding a possible launch date for China's second prototype manned spacecraft, called Shenzhou, the Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po newspaper is reporting that workers are readying the spacecraft for a launch some time in early January, possibly this week.

Wen Wei Po first reported the Shenzhou 1 launch in November 1999 and is known for being affiliated in conjunction with the Chinese government.

This announcement of a nearing second unmanned test flight comes as many space experts around the globe have been speculating as to when China would attempt another mission. Since the Shenzhou 1 flight, many possibilities for a launch date have come and gone without a liftoff.

A Chinese official announced in December that the second test flight of the Shenzhou craft "would not be too far in the future." China has also publicly stated that they would put a person inside a Shenzhou-derived capsule by 2005.

The second Shenzhou spacecraft would likely stay in orbit longer than the first, which spent less than a day in space. However, the exact duration of the flight will likely not be known until after the mission is completed.

The Shenzhou design has largely been surrounded by a shroud of secrecy, but it is known that the Chinese government purchased a scaled-down re-entry module of the Russian Soyuz manned capsule from Soyuz-builder RKK Energia. The Shenzhou orbiter does show several tell-tale signs of similarity between itself and the Soyuz, such as the presence of solar arrays and the spacecraft containing three separate modules, although more detailed looks reveal several differences.

The launch would likely take place atop a CZ-2F rocket, an updated man-rated version of China's Long March 2E rocket. The CZ-2F, also called Long March 2F, features a two-stage core vehicle, with four liquid-fueled boosters attached around the circumference of the first stage of the vehicle.

Shenzhou 2 will be sent skyward from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC). It is China's oldest launching base and is located in northwestern part of the country.