China’s next manned spaceflight is likely to make a “fly around” of the Tiangong 1 space station, says Ming Li of the China Academy of Space Technology.
The previous Shenzhou 9 flight, which carried two male and one female Chinese astronauts in June 2012, had shown that China has now mastered direct docking and undocking with the 8 tonne Tiangong-1 small space station from a linear rendezous approach, according to Li, and that the next mission’s objectives would be to make dockings using a non-tangential approach, probably from below. This activity would likely be conducted as part of a fly-around inspection of the space station using similar techniques that the Space Shuttle and Soyuz spacecraft have used flying around the International Space Station.
With respect to China’s plans for future space stations, Li says that China has almost completed a new follow-on space station, Tiangong-2, to be launched in the 2013/2014 time period. Like its forerunner, Tiangong-2 will control all attitude control manoeuvres of the Shenzhou spacecraft/Tiangong space station assembly once docking has been achieved using a combination of control moment gyros and thrusters.
Li notes that China eventually plans to build a Mir-class multi-module space station of up to 80 tonnes mass.