China’s Future Spaceflight Plans Include Female Taikonauts, New Launch Site

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Anticipating the successful completion of China’s second manned spaceflight, one student from China’s Air Force Aeronautics University imagined herself in the pilot’s seat.

“My dream is to become China’s first female fighter pilot and first female taikonaut,” Tao Jiali, a student from southwest China’s Sichuan Province to the university, told China’s Xinhua News Agency Oct. 15.

The Shenzhou 6 spaceflight, which landed successfully Oct. 17 local time, wa s designed to further China’s human spaceflight experience as it works toward developing a manned space station and serve as a symbol of national pride while demonstrating the country’s technological prowess.

As part of that effort, China’s plans to select female astronauts for future missions, according to state media reports.

China’s Air Force Aeronautics University accepted its eighth group of female pilot trainees in July, and may prove the source of the country’s first female fighter pilots and first female taikonaut , Xinhua said Oct. 15 , adding that some students are hopeful they wi ll make the cut.

China eyes island spaceport

Even before the two Shenzhou 6 taikonauts landed, Xinhua reported that Chinese space officials may choose the southern province of its tropical island Hainan as a new spaceport to launch its next-generation rockets.

The location, however, comes as no surprise to China space experts, who said discussions of a Hainan space launch site have been going for at least five years.

“The island’s huge, and the [People’s Liberation Army] owns several bases on Hainan,” China space specialist Dean Cheng said. “It gives them immediate access to the land.”

Located in the South China Sea, Hainan is closer to the equator and could provide some advantages over China’s three other launch sites — including the northwestern-located Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center used to loft Shenzhou 6 — including heavier payloads and launching over water, China space experts said. Equatorial or near-equatorial launch sites are also used by Sea Launch and Europe’s Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

Liu Zhusheng, chief designer of China’s carrier rocket system, told Xinhua that the new booster will be designed to loft payloads of between 1.2 and 25 tons into low Earth orbit, and 1.8 to 14 tons into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. A heavy-lift rocket would follow China’s current Long March rocket family — Shenzhou 6 rode a Long March 2F into orbit — which boasts four series and 12 separate models with payload capacities of up to 12 tons for low Earth orbit space shots and about 5.2 tons into geosynchronous transfer orbits, according to state media reports.

China’s next-generation rocket family, the Long March 5, is reportedly undergoing ground tests, said Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on China’s space efforts chair of National Security Studies at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., in an earlier interview.

Johnson-Freese said China will likely have to build a new launch facility to suit the new rocket.

National Praise

China’s two Shenzhou 6 taikonauts, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, received a call Oct. 15 from President Hu Jintao while orbiting Earth aboard their Shenzhou 6 spacecraft.

Hu praised their efforts and wished them a “triumphant return,” according to state media reports.

“The motherland and people are proud of you,” Hu said in the long distance phone call according to Xinhua. “I hope you will successfully complete your task by carrying out the mission calmly and carefully and have a triumphant return.”

Shenzhou 6 taikonauts launched into orbit Oct. 12 Beijing Time (late Oct. 11 EDT) on China’s second manned spaceflight and its first to carry two space flyers on a multi-day trip.

“The spacecraft is working well and we are feeling good,” Nie told Hu, Xinhua reported. “You can rest assured, and all the people of the motherland can rest assured.”

Hu spoke to the Shenzhou 6 crew from Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center, and later addressed mission scientists and flight controllers there, encouraging them to return Fei and Nie safely back to Earth, Xinhua said.

The two taikonauts said Oct. 16 they appreciated the support of their country, state media reported.

“We’re grateful for the deep love and concern by all Chinese people, the Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan compatriots,” Nie said in a space-to-ground transmission, according to Xinhua.