Launch hits new level of precision

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2011, 12:00am


An unmanned spacecraft that was launched from Jiuquan, Gansu, yesterday set a record for precise space delivery, underlining China's ability to place a rocket in any location - or on any object - in near-earth orbit.

Liu Yu, chief commander of the launch mission, told Xinhua that a Long March (LM) rocket that blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre at about 6am set a record in terms of precision when delivering the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft to its designated orbit.

'This is a perfect job,' he said, adding that he could not be more satisfied with the performance.

Liu said the rocket, an LM-2F Y8, was the first Chinese rocket to use iterative guidance, which requires very fast computers on the rocket to do repeated calculations with flight data to determine the exact moment to shut down the rocket's engines.

It had received more than 100 technological improvements for the mission, making it the most precise and reliable LM-type rocket.

A satellite expert attending an internal meeting in Beijing about the launch yesterday said the margin between the spacecraft's actual and designated locations was only 12 metres. 'The figure dropped a bomb in the meeting of experts because it is not only the best record in China but probably the world,' the expert, a key drafter of China's lunar project, said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

'Because of the United States export embargo on hi-tech equipment, China has had to build almost the entire guidance system itself. From simple capacitors to highly sophisticated gyroscopes, we sometimes started from scratch. This time we showed other countries that we can deliver a payload to any location, which means we can also bring down any object in near space.'

The Chinese military conducted a test in 2007, destroying an out-of-service weather satellite with a missile and shocking the world with its technological advancement.

Jing Muchun, chief designer of the rocket, told Xinhua yesterday that China had also made significant progress in developing rockets with higher delivery capacity and would soon start test flights.

Jing said the LM 5 series rockets, with payload capacity exceeding 20 tonnes, had overcome almost all main technical barriers and were almost ready for flight. He said China was also developing an LM 7 series, with smaller payloads but lower cost, as medium-range lift vehicles.

'We cannot set the benchmark on the mass of payload only,' he said. 'We must see if it is needed. If necessary, we can definitely come out with bigger and more powerful rockets.'

The unmanned Shenzhen VIII is scheduled to rendezvous and dock with the Tiangong 1 space laboratory tomorrow morning.