China sets new annual record with launch of manned Shenzhou-15 to space station

China today successfully used its Long March 2F rocket to launch three astronauts on a six month mission to its Tiangong-3 space station, setting a new annual national record for launches in a single year.

China’s previous high of 52 successfully launches was achieved last year. This launch, with about five weeks left in the year, is its 53rd in 2022.

This mission will also be the first on Tiangong-3 where there will be an overlap of two crews, with six people occupying the station for a short while.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

54 SpaceX
53 China
20 Russia
9 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 78 to 53 in the national rankings, while trailing the rest of the world combined 83 to 78.

China launches “reusable experimental spacecraft”

According to the official Chinese press, China today successfully used its Long March 2F rocket to place into orbit a “reusable experimental spacecraft.”

To say the information provided was terse is to be extravagant. This is it:

After a period of in-orbit operation, the spacecraft will return to its scheduled landing site in China. It will test reusable technologies and in-orbit service technologies as planned during its flight, providing technological support for the peaceful use of space.

It appears, based on the size of the rocket, that this spacecraft is likely a copy of Boeing’s X-37B.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

33 SpaceX
28 China
10 Russia
6 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 48 to 28 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 48 to 45.

These numbers should change within the next half hour, as SpaceX is about to launch another rocket.

Did pieces of a Chinese upper stage land in middle of Mediterranean last week?

According to a tweet from a Twitter account that specializes in reporting on the Chinese space program, at least one piece of the upper stage from the Long March 2F rocket that launched the present Tiangon space station crew on the Shenzhou-14 crashed into the middle of Mediterranean Sea when the stage’s orbit decayed.

Most parts burned during the reentry while small debris splashed in Mediterranean Sea around E5.2° N39.1°

According to both this Twitter site as well as the Aerospace Corporation’s re-entry site, the event occurred on June 20, 2022. The latter site however says the stage burned up over the Atlantic, though it also indicated a one hour margin of error both before or after that time. If the stage thus stayed up just a bit longer, its orbit would have brought it down exactly where the former site states.

If this is so, it indicates that the Chinese either could not or made no effort to control the de-orbit, something that should be standard for any upper stage that has mass that could hit the ground.

Hat tip from reader Jay.

China launches three astronauts to Tiangong station

The new colonial movement: Using its Long March 2F rocket, China has successfully launched three astronauts into orbit for a six month mission to its Tiangong space station.

The crew will be transported to the station in China’s Shenzhou capsule, docking about six hours after launch. During this mission China will also launch the last two large modules planned for the station, completing its initial construction by the end of the year.

I have embedded the live stream below the fold, cued to just before launch.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

22 SpaceX
18 China
8 Russia
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 31 to 18 in the national rankings, as well as the entire globe combined, 31 to 29.

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China successfully launches three astronauts to its space station

Launch of Shenzhou

The new colonial movement: China today successfully used its Long March 2F rocket to place three astronauts into orbit to begin a six month mission to that country’s new space station.

The image to the right is a screen capture from the live stream, mere seconds after launch.

It appeared to me that the rocket’s first stage might have had grid fins to control its reentry, but I am not certain. Either way both it and the four strap-on boosters will crash in China.

The Shenzhou capsule will dock with the station in a few hours.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

36 China
23 SpaceX
17 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

China has now moved ahead of the U.S. in the national rankings, 36 to 35.

Long March 2F booster that launched astronauts lands on public road in China

Long March 2F strap on booster after crashing onto public road
Click for full image.

One of the four strap-on boosters used to launch three astronauts to China’s new space station on June 16th ended up landing on a public road in China.

The photo to the right, uploaded at this twitter feed, shows the booster. The parachute cords at its top explain why it is so relatively undamaged. The Chinese are apparently experimenting with parachutes to slow and maybe even control its descent. They might even be planning to catch the stage before it hits the ground, using a plane or helicopter, as both ULA and Rocket Lab hope to do with their Vulcan and Electron rockets.

Of course, we do not know this, as the Chinese tell us nothing.

Note that the hypergolic fuels, such as the hydrazine used in this booster, are extremely toxic. The person who took this picture is in very great danger, even if he or she does not know it.

Potential routes of hydrazine exposure include dermal, ocular, inhalation and ingestion.

Hydrazine exposure can cause skin irritation/contact dermatitis and burning, irritation to the eyes/nose/throat, nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, pulmonary edema, headache, dizziness, central nervous system depression, lethargy, temporary blindness, seizures and coma. Exposure can also cause organ damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. Hydrazine is documented as a strong skin sensitizer with potential for cross-sensitization to hydrazine derivatives following initial exposure.

Not that the Chinese government really cares. They have been dumping these boosters on their own people for decades, and only recently have apparently begun to look into ways of controlling their descent.

Chinese astronauts successfully launched into space

The new colonial movement: Using its Long March 2F rocket China tonight (June 17th in China) successfully launched three astronauts into orbit on their Shenzhou manned capsule for a planned three month mission to the first module of their new space station.

The most recent update as I post this:

Chinese mission control has confirmed today’s launch was a success, placing the Shenzhou 12 capsule into an orbit ranging in altitude between 120 miles (220 kilometers) and 208 miles (335 kilometers). Docking with the Tianhe core module is expected in approximately six hours. The rendezvous will be fully automated.

No word on where the four strap-on boosters and core stage landed within interior China.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

18 SpaceX
17 China
8 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 26 to 17 in the national rankings, and will add to that lead if a planned SpaceX launch tomorrow goes as planned.

First manned mission to new Chinese space station to launch June 17th

The new colonial movement: China yesterday announced that the first manned mission to its new Chinese space station will launch tomorrow, June 17th, carrying three astronauts to the station’s Tianhe core module launched earlier this year.

One day before launch, China finally confirmed unofficial reports that it will launch the first crew to its new space station module, Tianhe, on June 17 Beijing Time (June 16 Eastern Daylight Time). It is China’s first human spaceflight launch in 5 years. The three men will stay aboard Tianhe for three months, the longest time in orbit for any Chinese crew.

During the three month mission the astronauts will do at least one spacewalk to likely deploy solar panels and other equipment preparing Tianhe for later modules.

The announcement also included statements by Russia that it has agreed to send Russian astronauts to the station at some point in the future.

No word on whether China will broadcast the launch live.

China rolls rocket to launchpad for first manned mission to station

The new colonial movement: China yesterday moved to the launchpad the Long March 2F rocket it will use to launch the first three astronauts to occupy its new space station.

The first element of the complex, the Tianhe core module, launched April 28 aboard a heavy-lift Long March 5B rocket, China’s most powerful launch vehicle. An unpiloted cargo ship, named Tianzhou 2, launched May 29 and docked with the Tianhe core module eight hours later, delivering fuel, food and spacesuits for the Shenzhou 12 astronauts.

The Shenzhou 12 mission will last about three months, the longest stay in space to date by Chinese astronauts. Shenzhou 12 will be China’s seventh crewed spaceflight since 2003.

Chinese officials have not announced the launch date for the Shenzhou 12 mission, but rockets for China’s last three crewed spaceflights rolled to the pad at Jiuquan about a week before liftoff. That suggests the launch could occur around June 16 or June 17.

As this launch will be from a spaceport in the interior of China, it will dump its first stage boosters on land.

During that three month mission the three astronauts will likely do several spacewalks to deploy solar panels and other equipment on the exterior of the Tianhe module, preparing it for later modules as well as the next manned mission, scheduled for October and planned to last six months.