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Monday, December 26, 2011

China to Launch Space Lab Crews in 2012; Continue Developing Lunar Rover for 2013

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is on track to launch two human taikonaut space crews to the Tiangong 1 space lab in 2012/2013 with the Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 spacecraft as a part of the Chinese Project 921. China's first female is expected to be among the crew.

A dramatisation video of Chinese Shenzhou spaceflights featured pin-up actress Zeng Li as China's first female taikonaut.

A second space lab, Tiangong 2 is expected to be launched in 2013. This will be larger than Tiangong 1 at some 20 tons and 14.4 metres length. This will be visited by future Shenzhou missions though exact details are not yet available.

A larger basic permanent space station is expected to be the third and last phase of Project 921. This will be a modular design with an eventual weight of around 60 tons, to be completed sometime before 2020. The first section, designated Tiangong 3, is scheduled for launch in 2015. Tiangong 3 will weigh 22 tons and be 18.1 metres long. Additional modules will be connected over several missions to build the space station. The Chinese space station is scheduled to be completed in 2020, just as the International Space Station is scheduled to retire.

In 2012, China will continue to develop its lunar hardware with a target of launching their third Moon probe, the Chang'e 3, with China's first lunar rover, in 2013. Chang'e 3 will operate for 90-days. It has been reported that the lander, a subsequent Chang'e 4 rover, will inspect the Moon's surface and probe its resources in 2017. The rovers would also provide data to determine the selection of a site for a manned Moon base.

The Chang'e 3 lander is scheduled to land on the Sinus Iridum at a latitude of 44° north. Chang'e 3 is currently scheduled to be the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the Moon since Soviet Russia's Luna 24 in 1976, breaking a 37-year gap in lunar surface exploration.

By 2017, the Chinese lunar program aspires to launch Chang'e 4 to return a lunar regolith (soil) with up to two kilograms and returning the sample back to Earth for study. While no formal plan to place Chinese taikonauts on the surface of the moon, it is symbolic that the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) logo carries with it two human footsteps on the moon's surface and many expect the next humans on the Moon will be Chinese.

Meanwhile, the American Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, consisting of two small spacecraft GRAIL A and GRAIL B, were launched on 10 September 2011. The orbital insertion dates are December 31, 2011 (2011-12-31) (for GRAIL-A) and January 1, 2012 (2012-01-01) (for GRAIL-B). MORE.

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