Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, March 10, 2006

Chinese Spaceships

Ralph Buttigieg Sydney NSW Australia


The Chamberlands should be back home today so this will be my last posting. I hope you found my articles interesting. I'll might post the occasional article and update in the future but I'm sure Dennis has much to tell us about.


NASA is in the process of developing the CEV spaceship and the Russians the Kliper, meanwhile the Chinese have successfully launched the first new manned orbital vehicle in decades , the Shenzhou. A glance at the Shenzhou will instantly show its similarity with the Russian Soyuz. Like the Soyuz its based on a three module design with a return, propulsion and orbital module with the addition of a small separate instrument module. This should be no surprise, the Soyuz is the great work horse of Space exploration. In one form or another it has been in use since the sixties. The Soyuz has been a space taxi, a lifeboat , cargo ship and in its Zond variant, a moon ship. Rumors of the Chinese stealing Russian technology are wrong. They purchased much of the technology through agreements signed in 1990s.

The design philosophy behind Soyuz is to put the crew and anything that has to be returned to Earth in a separate re-entry module, everything else goes in one of the other two modules. This way the Russians minimized the need for heat shields, retro-rockets, parachutes and other equipment required for landing. For every gram removed from the return module they saved two grams overall. The Soyuz had approximately the same mass as the old Apollo, but had about a third extra internal volume. The other major advantage was that the orbital module could be used as an airlock. This was essential for the cosmonauts as the primitive Soviet era electronics could not withstand vacuum.

Although the Shenzhou is based on the same design principle as the Soyuz it is no copy. It is larger with more volume, has three time the electrical power and importantly the orbital module has its own propulsion system and can be left in space as a separate spacecraft.

After several unmanned flights Yang Liwei, became the first taikonaut to fly a Chinese spaceship. The mission in October 2003 lasted 21 hours and Liwei never left the return module but he did prove the Shenzhou was operational. The orbital module was left in space and operated for about six months on a military imaging mission.

The next mission, Shenzhou 6, was in October 2005 and had a two man crew. This time the taikonauts (can someone come up with a generic name for space travelers?) entered the orbital module and spent 5 days in Space. Again the orbital module was left behind with military experiments.

The next manned flight was planed for 2007 but has been delayed by six months until 2008 as the EVA spacesuit is taking longer to develop then expected. That mission will again be with a two man crew and involve a space walk. It should be noted that the last time the Russians did a EVA with a Soyuz was in 1968 and that was with a Soyuz docked to another Soyuz. All their EVA since have been from space stations. That they are attempting such a feat shows the confidence the Chinese have in the Shenzhou.

Once the space walk has ended all the tests possible with one spaceship would have been completed. The next mission won't be until 2010 which will allow time for the Chinese to complete a mini space station. The habitat will be based on an extended Shenzhou orbital module and mass about eight tonnes and have two docking ports. Once placed into orbit an unmanned Shenzhou will be sent to dock with it and deliver cargo. This will be followed with a manned Shenzhou which will dock at the second port. The astronauts will enter China's first space habitat and begin an extended stay.

No firm announcement has been made as what will follow. Speculation is that a larger, twenty tonne permanent station will be orbited . Theres indication the Chinese would like to join the ISS consortium, although how realistic that is I don't know. They have said their long range ambition is the Moon and Shenzhou hardware could be adapted for a moonshot but any firm plans are unknown.

For more information see here, here, and here.

Update from Enceladus

NASA have confirmed my previous post on Enceladus. From a report just released:

NASA's Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon.

"We realize that this is a radical conclusion -- that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold," said Dr. Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leade

r at Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. "However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms."...

So there is liquid water there but they still are baffled as to why.

James Oberg has an excellent article as to what this means. I urge you to read it.

My take. It has long been thought that Europa has an internal liquid water sea, recent evidence also suggest other large Jovian moons have liquid water underneath their crust. The Kupier Belt Objects are mostly ice so they too may have underground oceans. We can now add Enceladus.

Quantum Limits has a focus on Undersea and Space exploration. In the outer Solar System they become one. For the warm internal oceans will be much more friendly then the cold surface above. The explorers and settlers of the outer planets will be aquanauts not just astronauts.

NASA / JPL / SSI An enhanced-color image of Enceladus, based on data from the Cassini spacecraft, highlights dark "tiger stripes" in the south polar region. Those stripes are actually fissures that appear to be the source of the Saturnian moon's geysers.