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Shenzhou spacecraft

Shenzhou (神舟號 variously translated as "Vessel of the Gods", "Divine Craft", "Divine Mechanism" but also a pun off a literary name for China 神州) is the name of a spacecraft from the People's Republic of China which first carried a taikonaut into orbit in 2003. Development began in 1992, with the first four unmanned test flights in 1999, 2001 and 2002. It is launched on the Long March 2F from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Although the shape and division into modules resembles that of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, Shenzhou was designed indigenously, and the resemblances to Soyuz are largely because of similar design constraints.

Table of contents
1 Design
2 History
3 Missions launched
4 Future missions
5 External links


Like the Soyuz, the Shenzhou consists of three modules; a forward "orbital" module, a reentry capsule in the middle, and an aft service module. This division is based on the principle of minimizing the amount of material to be returned to Earth. Anything placed in the orbital or service modules does not require heat shielding, and this greatly increases the space available to the spacecraft without increasing weight as much as it would if those modules were also able to withstand reentry.

The orbital module contains space for experiments, crew-serviced or operated equipment, and in-orbit habitation. The reentry capsule contains seating for the crew, and is the only portion of the Shenzhou which returns to Earth's surface. The aft service module contains life support and other equipment required for the functioning of the Shenzhou. Two pairs of solar panels, one pair on the service module and the other pair on the orbital module, have a total area of over 40 square metres, indicating average electrical power over 1.5 kW (three times that of Soyuz and greater than that of the original Mir base module).

Unlike the Soyuz, the orbital module was equipped with its own propulsion, solar power, and control systems, allowing autonomous flight. In the future the orbital modules could also be left behind on a Chinese space station as additional station modules. In the unmanned test flights launched so far, the orbital module of each Shenzhou was left functioning in orbit for several days after the reentry capsule's return.


China's first efforts at human spaceflight started in 1968 with a projected launch date of 1973. Although China did launch an unmanned satellite in 1970, this attempt was cancelled due to lack of funds and political interest.

The current Chinese human spaceflight programme was authorized on April 1 1992 as Project 921, with work beginning on January 1 1993. The Shenzhou project's chief designer is Qi Faren. The first unmanned flight of the spacecraft occurred on November 20 1999 after which Project 921 was rechristened Shenzhou, a name reportedly chosen by Jiang Zemin. A series of three additional unmanned flights ensued. The Shenzhou reentry capsules used to date are 13% larger than Soyuz reentry capsules, and it is expected that later craft will be designed to carry a crew of four instead of Soyuz' three.

The fifth launch, Shenzhou 5, was the first to carry a human (Yang Liwei) and occurred at 9:00 (UTC +8) on October 15, 2003.

Like similar space programs in other nations, Shenzhou has been somewhat controversial with some in China questioning whether China should spend money on launching people into space, arguing that these resources would be better directed elsewhere. Indeed, two earlier human spaceflight programs, one in the mid-1970s and the other in the 1980s were cancelled because of expense.

In response, a number of justifications have been offered in the Chinese media. One is that the long term destiny of humanity lies in the exploitation of space, and that China should not be left behind. Another is that such a program will catalyze the development of science and technology in China. Finally, it has been argued that the prestige resulting from this capability will increase China's stature in the world.

Some Western news media outlets have suggested that there are important military implications for China's ability to put astronauts into space. However, the Chinese media has played down possible military motivations, and experience of both the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s suggest that the military usefulness of human spaceflight is quite limited with practically all military uses of space much more effectively performed by unmanned satellites.

Missions launched

Future missions

External links