According to a report from Beijing published in the Economic Times, China has delayed its next manned spaceflight mission until next year. This is despite a previous announcement in late 2011 by Wu Ping, spokeswoman for the Chinese space agency, that China would conduct two more rendezvous missions to its orbiting Tiangong station in 2012, at least one of which would be manned. The reasons for the delay of the flights, and for the switch of Shenzhou-9 from manned to unmanned, were not disclosed.
“According to the mission plans, at least one of the two flights next year will be manned,” Wu said in October 2011, referring to future dockings to the Tiangong space station. Her statement was given on the eve of the Shenzhou-8 flight that proved that the Chinese space program was capable of on-orbit rendezvous with its orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab, an important step in China’s long term plan to establish a space station in low-Earth orbit and on the moon.
The newly released schedule has the Shenzhou-9 mission launching unmanned in June 2012, with the manned Shenzhou-10 mission occurring in early 2013. These missions are both vital to the establishment of a Chinese space station in low-Earth orbit (LEO), as they would verify technologies associated with docking with the orbiting space lab and allow for the first Chinese taikonaut to board the station.
Previous missions during the development of the Chinese space station included the flight of taikonaut Yang Liwei on Shenzhou-5 in 2004 and the two EVAs from taikonauts during Shenzhou-7. Once constructed, the Chinese LEO space station would be part of a larger effort by the Chinese government to establish a colony on the moon.