Space Exploration

Shenzhou VII gets green light for launch after passing final tests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2008, 12:00am

Space programme officials gave the green light to the Shenzhou VII mission after final tests on the spacecraft ended successfully yesterday, state media reported.

Rocket boosters will be filled with propellants today and the launch pad will be cleared to send the 7-tonne spacecraft skyward on Thursday night.

To ensure a timely evacuation of the crew in case of problems during the launch, an emergency shutdown test was also carried out yesterday with satisfactory results, Xinhua reported.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre launch director Cui Jijun said spacewalks would be carried out 19 hours after the launch - at about 4.30pm on Friday - if everything went according to schedule.

'If the launch takes place on Thursday night, we should be able to watch the crew getting out of the spacecraft on Friday afternoon. But if the launch is postponed, so will the scheduled activities,' he said.

Mission deputy commander Zhang Qijian told Beijing News the astronauts would have a flexible spacewalk plan.

'Each of the crew has been assigned to a specific post. Two will enter the airlock and the third will stay at the re-entry module. But they have received the same training, so they can swap their roles anytime,' General Zhang said.

'We have prepared for two [astronauts] to do the [spacewalk] - one in a Russian-made spacesuit and the other in one made by ourselves. But if one of them gets sick or something happens to a spacesuit, the other will complete the mission independently.'

A space industry source said it was mandatory to leave one crew member in the spacecraft.

'If you leave the spacecraft's altitude control entirely to the computer, there is a good chance that an inexperienced [astronaut] will accidentally drift behind an active rocket burner.'

Some new features on the spacecraft hull would ensure a smooth spacewalk, according to a China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation spokesman.

Mission designers have stripped a pair of extendable solar silicon arrays from the orbit module, enlarged the gangway and put a tank of nitro-oxygen at the nose of the craft to repressurise the vessel when the spacewalk is completed.

Extra handrails, cameras and lights have also been added to the hull to film it for transmission back to Earth, which is eagerly awaited across the nation.