(Sen) - China's Shenzhou 9 spacecraft successfully completed a manual docking procedure with its orbiting space lab Tiangong-1 on Sunday June 24. It was the first manual docking of China's space programme.
The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft started the day joined to Tiangong-1, the two having achieved an automated rendez-vous on June 18.
The three astronauts aboard, Jing Haipeng, the mission commander, Liu Wang and Liu Yang entered into Shenzhou 9 on Sunday morning Beijing time and separated from Tiangong-1 and moved to a distance of 400m. At 12.48 Beijing time Liu Wang took the controls of Shenzhou 9 and operated the parallel moving and attitude adjusting hand lever to control the spaceship to approach the lab from the berthing point distance of 140 meters. After a series of procedures of capturing, buffering and correction, pulling back and locking the Shenzhou 9 spaceship and Tiangong 1 were connected together once more. The process was monitored by fellow astronauts Jing Haipeng and Liu Yang. The process completed at 12.55 local Beijing time.
The manual docking procedure took just 7 minutes, faster than the automatic rendez-vous.
China has now demonstrated both automatic and manual docking procedures, technology and experience that will be important for China's ambitious space program.
Tiangong-1 and the attached Shenzhou 9 craft are orbiting Earth at approximately 28,000 km per hour.
Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China's manned space program, said "The automated docking and manual docking are both essential and they serve as a backup for each other." He added that China has fully grasped space travel, space walk and space rendezvous and docking technologies that are essential to building a space station.
Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's manned space program, said the manual space docking was "a complete success" and that the astronauts had re-entered the space lab module to continue their scientific experiments. The three astronauts have almost completed the major tasks they set out to achieve and will return to Earth later this week, advised Wu Ping.
Tiangong-1 was launched in September 2011, and within a month of being placed in orbit it was joined by the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft. On June 16 Shenzhou 9 launched and docked automatically on June 18 with Tiangong-1, the first human spaceflight docking of China's space program.
China plans to develop Tiangong into a space station over the next few years - the ability to launch crew and cargo to the orbiter is therefore a key technological milestone in the process.
The Shenzhou-10 mission is planned for next year.
China outlined its key plans for space in a paper published in December 2011. The plans include developing new Long March rockets and developing BeiDou, the Chinese version of GPS. A new launch site, Hainan, is currently under construction and will compliment the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert, used to launch the current mission.
China also annouced, in two sections of the paper entitled Human spaceflight and Deep-space exploration, that “China will conduct studies on the preliminary plan for a human lunar landing”.
The Deep Space Exploration section of the paper states that “China will conduct special project demonstration in deep-space exploration, and push forward its exploration of planets, asteroids and the sun of the solar system”.