On November 10, the deputy commander-in-chief of China’s manned space program indicated the timing for the country’s next crewed launch. Niu Hongguang told China National Radio that the flight of Shenzhou-10 would take place in June 2013.
Hongguang sees the upcoming mission as a precursor to construction of a space lab and a space station. Shenzou-10 will supply the prototype space lab Tiangong-1 and assess taikonauts’ abilities to work and live in space. “The [crew] will stay in space for 15 days, operating both automated and manual space dockings with the target orbiter Tiangong-1, conducting scientific experiments in the lab module and giving science lectures to spectators on the Earth,” he said, describing a mission profile very similar to that of its predecessor, Shenzhou-9.
This will be the third mission to dock with Tiangong-1. In November 2012, Shenzhou-8 performed an unmanned docking. In June 2012, Shenzhou-9 performed both manual and automated docking, after which its three crew members spent time aboard the space lab. “After more than a year of operation in space, Tiangong-1 is still in good condition,” Niu said.
China plans to build its own space station around 2020. “The space station is a state-level space experimental platform,” said Hongguang. “We will make the best use of it to solve some problems concerning the country’s scientific, technological development and people’s livelihoods.”
Shenzhou-10 will carry another crew of three, with selection set to begin in early 2013. The crew will likely include two men and one woman, just like Shenzhou-9. It is unknown whether crew selection will be as secretive as for the last mission, when the crew was only publicly announced days before the launch, but it might be an opportunity for Wang Yaping, the woman widely seen as the runner-up for the post of first Chinese woman in space, to take her turn in orbit. Of course, Yaping ultimately lost out to Liu Yang for that historic title.
2013 looks to be an important year for China’s space program. In addition to Shenzhou-10, the nation plans to land a probe on the Moon. This would be China’s third lunar mission, but Chang’e 1 and 2 were place in lunar orbit and never landed on the surface. A manned mission is also planned, but no timing for such a mission has yet been announced.
Below, watch Shenzhou-9’s crew board Tiangong-1: