China performed its first automatic docking experiment on Wednesday November 2. After a two-day travel, the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft approached the Tiangong 1 experimental space station module. At 1:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT; 1:30 a.m. local time Thursday in China), the docking probe of the Shenzhou latched into the space station. Ten minutes after the capture, the docking was completed. “Tiangong 1 has joined Shenzhou 8, has completed the rendezvous and docking process,” said Chang Wanquan, chief commander of the China Manned Space Engineering Project, “I announce the docking of Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1 has been a complete success.”
China is planning to deploy a modular space station by 2020. Mastery of rendezvous and docking is a necessary step in that direction. The Shenzhou 8 will perform additional docking experiments, before the end of the mission. Later in 2012, a crewed Shenzhou 10 will perform a docking, followed by a human mission inside the space station module.
In the video, below, the docking sequence between Shenzhou 8 and Tiangong 1.