Despite prior reports that the Shenzhou-9 mission was to be delayed, it now seems that a June launch could be in the works, carrying a crew of three Chinese taikonauts to space for the first manned docking with the Chinese space station Tiangong-1.
In February, the China Manned Space Engineering (CMSE) agency announced that the next Shenzhou would launch between June and August 2012. Zarya, which tracks international space flight activities, projects that an eight day launch window opens on June 17 for the 13 day mission. With the May 9 delivery of the Long March 2F rocket, all equipment has been moved to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. According to Space Daily, all prior Shenzhou flights have taken place within 35-40 days of the rocket arrival at the launch center.
The Shenzhou-9 mission will include 13 days in space for three crew members. The crew will conduct a two day orbital chase, renzedous, and dock with the Tiangong-1 lab, after which they will spend 10 days at the station.
The identities of the Shenzhou-9 crew have not yet been revealed, although they are widely expected to include the first female taikonaut.
China is only the third country to develop orbital docking capabilities, following Russia and the United States. China’s first successful dock took place in November 2011 when its unmanned Shenzhou-8 docked with the Tiangong-1 station. A tenth Shenzhou launch is expected to take place in 2012, but it is not known whether it will be manned and what its mission will be. China has a goal of launching a manned space station by 2020 and is in discussions with ESA about a Chinese rendezvous with the International Space Station.
Watch the Shenzhou-8/Tiangong-1 docking below: