Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Tiangong-1 (Chinese: 天宫一号; pinyin: Tiāngōng yīhào; literally "Heavenly Palace 1") is China's first space station, an experimental testbed to demonstrate orbital rendezvous and docking capabilities. Launched unmanned aboard a Long March 2F/G rocket on 29 September 2011, it is the first operational component of the Tiangong program, which aims to place a larger, modular station into orbit by 2020. Tiangong-1 will be deorbited in 2013, and replaced over the following decade by the larger Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules.
Tiangong-1 will be visited by a series of Shenzhou spacecraft during its two-year operational lifetime. The first of these, the unmanned Shenzhou 8, successfully docked with the module in November 2011, while the manned Shenzhou 9 mission docked in June 2012. A third and final mission, Shenzhou 10, is scheduled to launch in 2013.
According to the China National Space Administration (CNSA), Tiangong-1 is an 8.5-metric-ton (19,000 lb) "space-laboratory module", capable of supporting the docking of manned and autonomous spacecraft. In 2008, the China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) released a brief description of Tiangong-1, along with its larger successor modules, Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3. A model of the space station was revealed in the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration program on CCTV on 25 January 2009.
On 29 September 2008, Zhang Jianqi (张建启), vice-director of the CMSEO, declared in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV) that Tiangong-1 would be launched in 2010 or 2011. Xinhua later stated that Tiangong-1 would be launched in late 2010, and declared that the renovation of ground equipment was in progress. However, the launch did not ultimately take place until 2011.
By mid-2011, the construction of Tiangong-1 was complete, and its systems and thermal properties were undergoing testing. Testing was also conducted on the Long March 2F carrier rocket on which Tiangong-1 would be launched; technicians undertook particularly extensive safety tests on the rocket in August and September 2011, following the launch failure of a Long March 2C rocket on 18 August.
Tiangong-1 has a pressurised habitable volume of approximately 15 cubic metres (530 cu ft), and uses passive APAS-type docking connectors. Structurally, Tiangong-1 is divided into two primary sections: a resource module, which mounts its solar panels and propulsion systems, and a larger, habitable experimental module.[2
Tiangong-1's experimental module is equipped with exercise gear and two sleep stations. The interior walls of the spacecraft have a two-color paint scheme – one color representative of the ground, and the other representative of the sky. This is intended to help the astronauts maintain their orientation in zero gravity. High-resolution interior cameras allow manned missions to be closely monitored from the ground, and the two sleep stations have individual lighting controls. Toilet facilities and cooking equipment for the manned missions are provided by the docked Shenzhou spacecraft, rather than being integrated into the Tiangong module itself. Similarly, one member of the module's three-person crew sleeps in the Shenzhou spacecraft, preventing overcrowding.