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China's Manned Spacecraft Blazes Innovations in Space Exploration

Source: | 2023-10-31 13:18:12 | Author:

Shenzhou-17 lifted off from theJiuquan Satellite Launch Center.(PHOTO: XINHUA)

By LIN Yuchen & FU Yifei

China’s space exploration enters a phase of new successes and experiments with the Shenzhou-17 manned spacecraft carrying three taikonauts, the youngest-ever Chinese crew, to Tiangong, the Chinese space station.

The spacecraft was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert in north China on October 26, the second manned spacecraft launched by China this year.

A quicker launch

It was developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT), a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation ( CASC). Wei Wei, director of the general design office, General Design Department of CALVT, said the Long March-2F Y17 rocket that carried the spacecraft was refined with 25 additional changes compared to its last version.

These changes improved its design, streamlined processes, and refined contingency plans, including optimized component localization and software configuration. These improvements enhanced the rocket's reliability and safety, Wei said.

The operations at the launch site were also streamlined to improve efficiency, including improving contingency plans for rapid response to potential problems.

Wei said the overall impact of these improvements was to shorten the launch preparation process considerably. When Tiangong was constructed, the rocket launch process used to take 49 days. But now it’s been reduced to 35 days. The goal is to bring it down to 30 days.

Transformation in manufacturing process

To ensure high quality of the Shenzhou spacecraft|, the CASC transformed its manufacturing process. They shifted from the traditional two-dimensional blueprint-based manufacturing model to a three-dimensional digital manufacturing model based on 3D models. This transition improved manufacturing efficiency and made the production process "visible" in real time. It also resulted in better visualization and understanding of the various stages of production, leading to increased precision and quality control.

To enhance R&D, the manufacturing team used advanced automation technologies, replacing manual labor with automation. This improved assembly guidance and contour checks, improving both efficiency and accuracy.

For the Shenzhou-17 mission, the team continued to use the relay terminal developed by the CASC. The relay terminal, along with the payload developed for the relay satellite, establishes a "space highway" that ensures uninterrupted communication between the spacecraft and the ground, so that the ground testing personnel can monitor the spacecraft's flight status in real time.

Putting people first

However, the most important feature of the Shenzhou-17 is ensuring foolproof safety of the crew, according to Chen Tongxiang, a researcher at CASC.

It goes with the Chinese governance philosophy that the people and their lives always come first.

China’s manned spaceflight development has been a process of solving problems painstakingly and innovatively.

When the manned spaceflights started, our development team faced a large number of technological challenges, said Zhang Bainan, deputy chief designer of China's manned spaceflight project. But they rose to the challenge, aiming at independent breakthrough technology.

We mastered the core key technologies of manned spaceflight, step by step,” Zhang added.

According to Chen, in the past two decades, besides breakthroughs in manned spaceflight technology, China has also achieved similar success in cabin technologies, including using robotic arms to assist in cabin activities, and in on-orbit rendezvous and docking technology.

The next step is to study the living conditions of the astronauts in space, including growing plants in space to ensure fresh vegetable supply in the future.

Zhang called the manned spaceflight spirit one of improvement, unity and cooperation, and pioneering and innovation.

Editor: 林雨晨

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