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Backgrounder (vedio): Tiangong-1's planned missions


16:37, June 26, 2012

Tiangong-1 has been in orbit since its launch last September. It’s designed to stay in outer space for at least 2 years.

The size and weight of a space station means it has to be built in space bit by bit. It means several spacecraft have to be launched over a period of time to carry the various component parts into space. Tiangong-1’s first mission is to command the rendezvous and docking skills of the spacecraft.

Zhang Bainan, Tiangong-1 chief designer of China Aerospace Science & Technology Corporation, said, "Shenzhou-8 carried out an unmanned docking. With Shenzhou-9, we want to test a manual docking. Only through rendezvous and docking can you assemble such a large space station. The Russian and US space stations have all been assembled in this way."

After rendezvous and docking, Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-9 will orbit together. This will form the second mission.

Yang Hong, Tiangong-1 tech supervisor of China Aerospace Science & Technology Corporation, said, "In the second mission, Shenzhou-9 and Tiangong-1 will connect. Tiangong-1 will control and manage the combination. When two independent spacecraft dock, they become one. They need to be controlled as one, and the technology is quite a challenge."

Tiangong-1 and the Shenzhou spacecrafts will share energy and information and form a joint living space for the astronauts. The third mission will be to find ways of creating a better living environment.

The third mission is to enable short-term stays in the space lab. With data being sent back daily from the lab, it’s useful for the engineers on the ground to be able to furnish future astronauts with basic survival skills.

But it won’t be an easy task to make long term stays in outer space.

Zhang said, "The space lab is like a house, if we don’t use it very often micro-organisms and bacteria build up. For example, if the space lab door is closed for half a year, it’s very likely we won’t be able to open it after this time. That can make the whole mission very risky."

The fourth mission will create a new platform for carrying out scientific research experiments.

Within a weightless environment, it’s important to test the physical condition of the human body. A series of experiments will focus on protecting the astronauts from the effects of weightlessness and maintaining their cardio and muscular functions.

Biological and space material tests will also be carried out. They will form part of the research into the environment the astronauts will be exposed to.


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