Christy: Shenzhou 9 Launch to Chinese Space Station Possible June 17
Bob Christy of Zarya.info anticipates that China's next launch to its Tiangong 1 space station may occur on June 17. China launched Tiangong 1 last year and the unoccupied Shenzhou-8 spacecraft conducted automated rendezvous and docking tests with it in November. China said at the time that two more Shenzhou spacecraft would visit the space station over the next two years. In March, China's Xinhua news agency said that the next spacecraft, Shenzhou 9, would carry a three-person crew, possibly including China's first female taikonaut.
Christy's analysis of orbital maneuvers by Tiangong 1 leads him to conclude that June 17 is the most likely, but not certain, date for the Shenzhou 9 launch. Writing in Space Daily today, he says that a launch window opens on June 17 and based on the fact that China recently lowered Tiangong 1's apogee, he concludes that "a late morning launch (UTC) will allow Shenzhou 9 and its crew of three to make rendezvous with Tiangong 1."
Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) was launched in September 2011. It is very small compared to the International Space Station (ISS) -- 8.5 metric tons (19,000 pounds) compared to about 400 metric tons (885,600 pounds) -- but nonetheless is a space station and placing a crew aboard would be a significant step in China's human spaceflight achievements.
Shenzhou 8, launched October 31 Eastern Daylight Time (November 1 in China) made two automated dockings in November and returned to Earth on November 17.
China's Xinhua news agency reported on May 11 that Shenzhou 9's launch vehicle had been moved to the pad, but did not specify a launch date, saying only that it would take place between June and August with the goal of completing "a manned rendezvous and docking mission." Xinhua said in March that an initial crew selection had been completed and women were included in the roster, but the final choice of the three-person crew would not take place until much closer to launch.
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