Mixed messages emanating from China-watchers…

Shenzhou spacecraftMixed messages emanating from a global net of China-watchers has analysts scrambling for the reason behind postponement of the planned flight of Shenzhou 9 to the Tiangong-1 space station. Originally planned for late March, that flight has now been put back to at least June. Speculation about the reason for this has been fuelled by a further interpretation that, when it is launched, Shenzhou 9 will fly without a crew and conduct extensive unmanned rendezvous and docking tests as well as some scientific work.

There has been speculation that because Shenzhou 8 was a significant improvement over previous spacecraft of this type, post-flight examination of mission results, plus a technical examination of the spacecraft itself, indicated a preference for flying unmanned a second spacecraft of this improved configuration. However, there is no reason to indicate that China is departing from a well considered plan and rumour and speculation has been rife in the absence of clear and unequivocal statements from Chinese space officials. Spaceflight has reason to believe that when it is launched Shenzhou 9 will in fact carry a crew of two taikonauts and that erroneous interpretation of media quotes is the reason behind widespread claims in the West that Shenzhou 9 is to be unmanned. At present there is little reason to suspect serious technical problems with the Shenzhou design or the operational capabilities of the spacecraft when matched with the Tiangong-1 module.

The Editor (Spaceflight)

Be sociable; support the BIS!