CNSA conducted successful launch of manned Shenzhou-11 spacecraft with two astronauts onboard; Jing Haipeng (commander – third space flight) and Chen Dong (flight engineer – first space flight) will reach Tiangong-2 space station after two days of space travel.
This is second milestone of Tiangong-2 program; first was of course delivering to orbit Tiangong-2 station and conducting series of tests to confirm, that it is ready for its first manned mission. Shenzhou-11 is second important part of Tiangong-2 program – two Chinese astronauts will spent inside Tiangong-2 30 days and will bet Chinese record of continuous time spent in space. During this mission they will initialize Tiangong-2 and install necessary equipment to conduct series of scientific experiments.
Launch was planned for 23:30 GMT on October 16, 2016, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center LA-4 launch site, launch pad 921; it is not exception, all Shenzhou spacecrafts have been launched from Jiuquan; also landing zone will be same as usual: Inner Mongolia. Launch vehicle, Long March 2F/G, is also constant part of Chinese manned program. This flight could be consider as routine, but due its destination, lasting 30 days mission inside Tiangong-2, it is definitely not. Next month will show true capability of Chinese space program for creating space station and providing conditions for two men to spent there prolonged time. Docking of Shenzhou-11 is planned for 18th October and just like whole flight it will be performed autonomously by onboard computer, without any engagement by crew members or control station on Earth.
Launch campaign started, when launch vehicle and spacecraft were delivered to Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center; rocket arrived on August 6, 2016 and spacecraft was delivered one week later, on August 15. Station was launched one month later on atop of Long March 2F/T2 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 15, 2016. Tests of Station were finished on September 25 and it performed orbit change (increasing altitude from 380 km to 393 km) to prepare for docking of Shenzhou-11. CNSA kept final launch date and even names of astronauts in secret, but rolling out of Long March F/G spotted on October 10 was unofficial confirmation of closing launch.
Final preparations for launch reached key point at 21:24 GMT yesterday, when Jing Haipeng (commander – third space flight) and Chen Dong (flight engineer – first space flight) took their places inside spacecraft. Jing Haipeng, as mission commander, sat in the center, Chen Dong- as flight engineer- sat on his left side. Hatch was closed four minutes later at 21:28 GMT. Due the lack of live broadcast from flight control center, we do not know much about Chinese procedures before flight. View transmitted from Shenzhou-11 showed both astronauts attaching seat belts and locking gloves on special clamps on their space suits. Next they put helmets on and performed pressurization of suits. After one hour, at 22:32 GMT outer hatch installed on fairing covering Shenzhou-11 was closed. At 22:56 GMT lower part of tower supporting Long March 2F/G was retracted, last tests and checks were conducted. At T-45″ (with launch planned for 23:30:28 GMT) arms of service tower were retracted. Finally, at 23:31 GMT rocket ignited its four boosters, each with YF-20B engine (with thrust at 740.4 kN) fueled with UDMH/N2O4; first stage also ignited its four YF-20B engines, which started to provide over 2900 kN of thrust burning same propellant as boosters. Rocket weighing 497 t and long for 58 m started to rise over pad 921. After 20 seconds of flight rocket performed pitch, roll and yaw maneuver; after another 42 seconds it passed sound barrier. At T+1’15” rocket reached point of highest dynamic pressure. Beam and emergency rescue system were jettisoned at T+2’01” and after next 33 seconds all four boosters separated correctly from the core. At T+2’41” first stage performed cut off of its engines and started to separate from the second stage. Next, second stage ignited its engines: single YF-22B and four vernier YF-23B providing summary thrust at 926 kN. Payload fairing was jettisoned at T+3’28”. Core engine was cut off at T+7’41”; vernier engines were still working to put rocket into correct course. Finally they were cut off two minutes later and Shenzhou-11 separated at T+9’44” and deployed three minutes its solar arrays. Two astronauts inside have begun their space journey to Tiangong-2.