Featured image: CASC
Lift Off Time
|June 17, 2021 – 01:22 UTC | 09:22 BJT|
|China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)|
|China National Space Administration (CNSA)|
|Long March 2F|
|LA-4/SLS-1, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gobi Desert, China|
|Up to 8,400 kg (18,500 lb)|
Where did the spacecraft go?
|The Tianhe module of the Tiangong Space Station, Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) – 370 km (230 mi), at a 41.0° inclination|
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
|No, this is not a capability of the Long March 2F|
Where did the first stage land?
|It crashed into the ocean|
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
|No, this is not a capability of the Long March 2F|
Were these fairings new?
This was the:
|– 7th crewed Chinese spaceflight |
– 7th crewed flight in the Shenzhou program
– 12th flight of a Shenzhou spacecraft
– 15th launch of a Long March 2F rocket
– 18th orbital launch of 2021 in China
– 55th orbital launch attempt of 2021
Where to watch
How did it go?
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) successfully launched the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft atop a Long March 2F rocket. The spacecraft carried three CNSA taikonauts to the first module of the Tiangong Space Station, the Tianhe, marking the first visit to the station and the first crewed Chinese spaceflight in over 4 years. The crew then made a fast and automatic rendezvous, docking with the station just 6 hours 32 minutes after launch.
What is the Shenzhou 12 mission?
Shenzhou 12 is the first crewed mission to the Tianhe core cabin module (CCM), the first module of the China’s Tiangong Space Station, which is currently under construction in LEO. The CNSA announced the names of the three crew members, commander Nie Haisheng, and operators Tang Hongbo and Liu Boming, in a press conference the day before liftoff. The mission is expected to last 90 days, with the crew returning to Earth in September 2021.
The rocket was initially expected to lift off on June 10, but a week long delay for the launch of the station’s first cargo resupply mission, the Tianzhou 2, delayed the Shenzhou 12 for the same amount of time. The Tianzhou 2 delivered 4,254 kg (9,378 lb) of cargo to the Tianhe CCM. This was mainly supplies for the station’s future taikonauts, and included two EVA spacesuits. It also carried 1,769 kg (3,900 lb) of propellant to the module, enough to autonomously refuel and maintain the module’s orbital altitude.
The Shenzhou 12 mission has four main aims. Firstly, to operate and manage testing of the Tianhe module, which will involve verifying life support systems, and testing of the station’s robotic arm. Secondly, the crew will perform two EVAs, which will allow them to install an extravehicular toolbox, a panoramic camera, and extended pump sets. Thirdly, the taikonauts will carry out science and technology experiments, as well as public outreach events. Lastly, the crew will learn how to manage daily life on the station, including carrying out physical exercise and health assessments.
Lasting 3 months, this mission is expected to break the record for the longest Chinese human spaceflight, with the current record having been set by the Shenzhou 11 in 2016, which spent 33 days in space. This will also be the first time since May 2000 that two space stations have simultaneously been inhabited, when the STS-101 mission visited the International Space Station, and the Soyuz TM-30 mission visited Mir space station.
Meet the crew
Commander: Nie Haisheng
CNSA taikonaut Nie Haisheng was born October 13, 1964 in Yangdang town of Zaoyang, Hubei Province, China. He was selected for the Chinese spaceflight program in 1998 as a member of the China’s first group of astronaut trainees.
Nie’s first flight was on October 12, 2005, when he served as flight engineer for the Shenzhou 6 mission, a mission which lasted just under five days. Nie returned to and spent 14 days in orbit on June 11, 2013, when he served as commander of the Shenzhou 10 mission. This was the second manned space flight to the first Chinese space station, the Tiangong-1. The Shenzhou 12 mission marks Nie’s third trip to space, when he will once again serve as commander.
Operator 1: Liu Boming
CNSA taikonaut Liu Boming was born in Yi’an County, northeast of the Heilongjiang province, in September 1966. He was a fighter pilot in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, before being selected as an astronaut trainee in 1998, in the same class as his future crew mate Nie Haisheng.
Liu’s first spaceflight was the Shenzhou 7 mission, which launched on September 17, 2008. During the mission, Liu spent just under three days in space. This was China’s third human spaceflight, and the first Chinese mission to have a three-man crew. Liu also made history on this mission as he participated in China’s first spacewalk.
Operator 2: Tang Hongbo
CNSA taikonaut Tang Hongbo, was born in Yunfuqiao, Xiangtan County, Hunan in October 1975. Formerly a pilot in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, he was selected for CNSA astronaut training in 2010, as a member of China’s second group of astronauts. The Shenzhou 12 mission will be Tang’s first journey to space.
The Shenzhou spacecraft
The Shenzhou spacecraft (meaning “divine vessel”) is largely comparable to the Soyuz in its design and technology; although the Shenzhou is substantially bigger at 9.25 x 2.8 m. The spacecraft’s maiden flight was on November 19, 1999, and it’s first crewed launch was the Shenzhou 5, which launched October 15, 2003, making China the 3rd country to demonstrate human spaceflight capabilities.
The spacecraft has three modules: a forward orbital module, a reentry capsule in the middle, and an aft service module. The orbital module has room to store experiments and equipment, and is a space for in-orbit habitation. The reentry module is the middle section of the spacecraft. This is where the crew sits for lift off and reentry, and is the only part of the vehicle which makes it back to Earth. The service module holds the life support and equipment needed for the Shenzhou to function. The spacecraft also has two sets of solar panels, with a total area of 40 m2 (430 ft²). One pair is found on the service module, and the other on the orbital module.
The Tiangong Space Station
The Tiangong Space Station (meaning “heavenly palace”) is a space station currently under construction in LEO. When complete the station will be roughly one-fifth the mass of the of the International Space Station. Construction began on April 29, 2021, when the core module, the Tianhe, which is able to accommodate three crew members with a built-in life support system, was launched on a Long March 5B rocket. The construction of the Tiangong is based on China’s two previous prototype space stations, the Tiangong-1 and the Tiangong-2.
The Shenzhou 12 mission is the third of 11 launches planned across 2021-2022 to construct the station, which will include 3 module launches, 4 cargo spacecraft, and 4 crewed missions. When complete, the station will consist of three modules, though it has the ability to expand to 6, and it is expected to be operational for at least 10 years.
What is the Long March 2F?
The Long March 2F, also known as the “Shenjian,” meaning “Divine Arrow,” is a Chinese rocket and member of the Long March 2 rocket family. Designed to launch the Shenzhou spacecraft, the Long March 2F is the human-rated, two stage version of the Long March 2E rocket. The 2F is externally similar to the 2E, with main change being the inclusion of a launch escape system. There are also some structural changes which allow the 2F to support the heavier fairing required by the Shenzhou capsule. The 2F is also capable of carrying heavier payloads thanks to the additional boosters on the first stage.
The Long March 2F has 4 boosters, each of which are 15.3 m (50 ft) in length, and each with one YF-20B engine. The YF-20B burns dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4 ) and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) in a gas generator cycle. The boosters have a burn time of 128 seconds, and a specific impulse (ISP) of 291 s. Collectively the boosters produce 3,256 kN (732,000 lbf) of thrust at lift off.
The first stage of the Long March 2F is 23.7 m (78 ft) in length and 3.4 m (11 ft) in diameter. Just like the boosters, this stage has four YF-20B engines, burning N2O4 and UDMH. This stage has a burn time of 166 seconds, and an ISP of 291 s.
The second stage is powered by a single YF-24B engine module, comprising a YF-22B engine and a YF-23B vernier, which again runs on N2O4 and UDMH. The stage is 13.5 m (44 ft) in length and 3.4 m (11 ft) in diameter, and provides 831 kN (187,000 lbf) of thrust. This stage has an ISP of 289 s, and will burn for approximately 300 seconds.