Chinese spacecraft with two astronauts inside docked to Tiangong-2 space station yesterday after lasting two days space journey.
Shenzhou-11 was launched two days ago from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, traditional space launch site used for manned missions in Chinese space program. Shenzhou was launched on atop of Long March 2F/G rocket to deliver two astronauts to Tiangong-2 space station remaining on orbit since September 15, 2016. Shenzhou-11 and its crew – commander Jing Haipeng and flight engineer Chen Dong spent 48 hours in space to reach position appropriate for approach maneuver to Tiangong-2 remaining on 393 km near circular orbit.
Spacecraft approach begun when vehicle passed distance of 52 km from Tiangong-2. Station remained in stable position and Shenzhou-11 was performing all necessary maneuvers using own independent onboard computer and propulsion. At that point, both vehicles established communication with each other to send and receive data on position, speed and other flight parameters. Next, Shenzhou-11 started to decrease distance gradually to 20 km, 5 km, 400m, 140m and 30m. Passing through these parking points, gave time for ground control center to verify parameters of the Shenzhou-11 flight. All parameters were correct, and astronauts allowed Shenzhou to continue flight autonomously after passing point of 120 m (on this distance crew has still possibility to interrupt automatic flight procedure and switch spacecraft for manual control). From 30 m distance, Shenzhou-11 started slow approach and prepared docking adapter. At 19:24 GMT Shenzhou-11 and Tiangong-2 established physical connection. After next 15 minutes docking port was checked and sealed. Next, they started to check condition of the Station and begun verify level of oxygen and humidity, pressure and other parameters confirming that life support systems are working correctly. Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong entered to Tiangong-2 at 22:32 GMT.
During their 30 days mission astronauts will perform series of experiments inside and outside Station. Using robotic arm they will operate containers with scientific experiments. Most of them are related with space technology: they contain new materials and fluids to be tested in outer space. Astronauts will also use POLAR gamma-ray detector designed and manufactured in the cooperation with Poland and Switzerland, test high precision cold atomic clock, designed to be accurate up to 1 second per 30000000 years (which could be used in future for navigational satellites). Astronauts will also perform series of medical experiments related with influence of micro gravity on human body.