The reentry module of China’s unmanned Shenzhou-8 capsule returned to Earth on November 17, landing in a northern region of Inner Mongolia. Having completed its on-orbit rendezvous and docking mission, the spacecraft has now returned to the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing where it was created.
Based on an initial inspection of the capsule by its designers, it has been announced that the capsule is in relatively good shape following its 17-day flight. “Now we can see the capsule’s surface is smooth and the structure is basically intact,” said Shenzhou Chief Designer, Hao Ping. “There ha[ve] been no big collisions during its journey through space. The color of its surface has turned brown, which indicates a proper ablation,” he continued.
The completion of the unmanned test flight represents an important step in the Chinese manned space program, which aims to establish a manned space station by 2020. The success of the reentry capsule proves that China is capable not only of launching and docking with the Tiangong-1, but that it is also able to return future crews safely to Earth. General Chang Wanquan, the Commander in Chief of the Chinese manned space program, said of the successful landing: “The Shenzhou-8 capsule has safely returned to the main landing site at Inner Mongolia and the Tiangong-1/Shenzhou-8 rendezvous and docking mission has achieved full success!”
Following the success of the Shenzhou-8 mission, China intends to launch two further missions in 2012 to dock with Tiangong-1, the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10, at least one of which will be manned.
Launched November 1st into a low-Earth orbit atop a Long March 2F rocket, Shenzhou-8’s primary mission was to perform China’s first ever on-orbit rendezvous by docking to the Chinese Tiangong-1 space station. The Shenzhou-8, whose name means “divine vessel” in Chinese, has widely been hailed as a step forward for the Chinese human spaceflight program, which is seen in China as symbol of its stature as a rising global power.
The video below shows the landing and recovery of the Shenzhou-8 reentry capsule.