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Shenzhou spacecraft

Shenzhou (神舟號 variously translated as "Vessel of the Gods", "Divine Craft", "Divine Mechanism" but also a pun off a literary name for China 神州) is the name of a spacecraft from China which is intended for a manned launch in 2003. Development began in 1992, with the first four unmanned test flights in 1999, 2001 and 2002. It is launched on the Long March rocket and contains some design similarities with the Soyuz spacecraft although contrary to some media reports, the Shenzhou is not a derivative of the Soyuz.

Like the Soyuz, the Shenzhou consists of three modules; a forward "orbital" module, a reentry capsule in the middle, and an aft service module. The orbital module contains space for experiments, crew-serviced or operated equipment, and in-orbit habitation. The reentry capsule contains seating for the crew, and is the only portion of the Shenzhou which returns to Earth's surface. The aft service module contains life support and other equipment required for the functioning of the Shenzhou. Two pairs of solar panels, one pair on the service module and the other pair on the orbital module, have a total area of over 40 square metres, indicating average electrical power over 1.5 kW (three times that of Soyuz and greater than that of the original Mir base module).

Unlike the Soyuz, the orbital module was equipped with its own propulsion, solar power, and control systems, allowing autonomous flight. In the future the orbital modules could also be left behind on a Chinese space station as additional station modules. In the unmanned test flights launched so far, the orbital module of each Shenzhou was left functioning in orbit for several days after the reentry capsule's reuturn.

The Chinese manned space program was authorized on April 1, 1992, with work beginning on Shenzhou on January 1, 1993. The Shenzhou project's chief designer is Qi Faren[?]. The first unmanned flight of the spacecraft occurred on November 20, 1999. A series of three additional unmanned flights ensued. The Shenzhou reentry capsules used to date are 13% larger than Soyuz reentry capsules, and it is expected that later craft will be designed to carry a crew of four instead of Soyuz' three.

It has been reported that the fifth launch is planned for October 2003, with Chen Long[?] expected to man the flight.

Shenzhou missions launched:

See also: Taikonaut

References



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