News & Current Affairs

September 26, 2008

China astronauts braced for walk

China astronauts braced for walk

The spacecraft is now in a stable, circular orbit

China’s three astronauts have spent their first day in orbit preparing for the mission’s spacewalk.

A 42-year-old fighter pilot, Zhai Zhigang, is due to carry out the 20-minute manoeuvre at 1630 Beijing Time (0830 GMT) on Saturday.

It will be the first time Chinese yuhangyuan (astronauts) have ventured outside their spacecraft.

Their Shenzhou VII capsule soared into orbit on a Long March II-F rocket from Jiuquan spaceport in north-west China.

The rocket put the Shenzhou capsule in a near-circular orbit more than 300km above the Earth.

Mr Zhai is joined on the mission by two other “yuhangyuan” – Liu Boming and Jing Haipeng.

The astronauts have been training in a water tank

Zhang Jianqi, one of the chief engineers for China’s space programme, said keeping three men in the spacecraft, and then sending one outside, would be a “big test”.

“This is a big technological leap,” he told state-run news agency Xinhua.

“The risks are quite high. Sending up three astronauts is a jump both in quantity and quality.”

When Mr Zhai carries out his extra-vehicular activity (EVA), he is expected to wear a Chinese-made spacesuit thought to have cost between £5m and £20m ($10m-$40m).

1958: Base for spaceflights built at Jiuquan, in Gobi desert
April 1970: China launches its first satellite into space
1990-2002: Shenzhou I-IV are launched to develop systems
Oct 2003: The first manned space mission launches on Shenzhou V
Oct 2005: The Shenzhou VI mission takes two men into space
Oct 2007: Chang’e-1 orbiter sent on unmanned mission to the Moon

The yuhanguan will be tethered to the capsule with a cable that provides him with life support and a communications link with the spacecraft.

His back-up, Mr Liu, will monitor the activity, presumably to reel the spacewalker back inside if there is an emergency.

Mr Zhai will retrieve an externally mounted experiment and oversee the release of a satellite.

During their 68 hours in orbit, the astronauts will be able to enjoy an unprecedented choice of food. The menu includes spicy chicken with peanuts, shrimps and dry fruits.

“We have tried to make them taste like stir-fried dishes they have on Earth,” Chen Bin, who is in charge of food for the astronauts, told state-run news agency Xinhua.

At the end of the mission, the Shenzhou re-entry capsule will target a landing in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

China became only the third nation after the United States and Russia to independently put a man in space when Yang Liwei, another fighter pilot, went into orbit on the Shenzhou V mission in October 2003.

Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a five-day flight on Shenzhou VI.

According to the Associated Press, Xinhua posted an article on its website prior to the lift-off that was written as if Shenzhou VII had already been launched into space.

The article reportedly carried a date of 27 September and came complete with a dialogue between the astronauts.

Chinese media report that this latest mission is the “most critical step” in the country’s “three-step” space programme.

These stages are: sending a human into orbit, docking spacecraft together to form a small laboratory and, ultimately, building a large space station.

The Shenzhou VIII and IX missions are expected to help set up a space laboratory complex in 2010.

China launched an unmanned Moon probe last year about one month after rival Japan blasted its own lunar orbiter into space.

Advertisements

August 17, 2008

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran launches satellite carrier

Iran says it has successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying its first domestically built satellite.

Officials said only the rocket had been fired, correcting state media reports that the communications satellite itself had been sent into orbit.

The White House voiced concern, saying the technology could also be used for launching weapons.

Tehran has pursued a space program for years, despite international concern over its nuclear plans.

In February it sent a probe into space as part of preparations for the launch of the satellite.

Long-held ambition

Footage aired on Irinn (Islamic Republic of Iran News Network) showed the launch of the Safir rocket in darkness.

The presenter said that the satellite launch was a trial which was successful. State and military officials confirmed the launch had taken place.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at the event, said one report.

In October 2005 a Russian-made Iranian satellite named Sina-1 was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

Sunday’s launch comes amid a long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: “The Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions.

“This action and dual use possibilities for their ballistic missile program are inconsistent with their UN Security Council obligations.”

The US and some European countries have demanded that Iran curtail uranium enrichment – but Iran protests that its purposes are peaceful and says it has a right to continue.

August 14, 2008

Japanese satellite rides skyward

Japanese satellite rides skyward

Ariane launch (Esa)

An early evening launch for Ariane

The first wholly home-designed and built telecommunications satellite for Japan has gone safely into orbit.

The Superbird-7 spacecraft went up on an Ariane rocket from Europe’s Kourou launch facility in French Guiana.

Built by the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, the satellite will deliver TV and other services to Japan and the wider Asia-Pacific region.

Currently, all Japanese broadcasters and commercial telecoms carriers use space platforms made in the US.

As is customary for an Ariane, the latest mission delivered two satellites into orbit.

The second was the AMC-21 spacecraft, a TV and internet platform whose services will be focussed on North and Central America.

The rocket left the ground at 1744 local time (2044 GMT) and released the Superbird-7 just under half-an-hour later, with the AMC-21 following shortly afterwards.

This flight was the fifth Ariane mission of 2008. Two further flights are planned in the coming months – making this year’s schedule the busiest since the vehicle’s commercial introduction in 1999.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.