The preliminary Shenzhou VIII spacecraft is now going through ground-testing, and an operational vessel will be produced if all tests are successful, according to Zhang Bonan, chief designer of the spacecraft system.
Zhang indicated that Shenzhou VIII will have two important missions. One will be to make a breakthrough on techniques of rendezvous docking, the other to advance the design of manned transport spacecraft.
"The national aim to establish a space station will definitely face two challenges," said Li Yuqing, a consultant of the Shenzhou Spacecraft System, at the Shenzhou VII Manned Space Flight Media Center. "Firstly, rendezvous docking of a manned spaceship with a vessel in orbit has to be successful. Shenzhou VIII and Shenzhou IX are intended to conduct such tests. Secondly, astronauts have to conduct extravehicular activities for in-orbit assembly and repair."
According to Li, Shenzhou VIII and Shenzhou IX will be unmanned, while Shenzhou X, which is intended to achieve rendezvous docking, will be a manned spacecraft.
Astronauts in Shenzhou X will enter the target vessel along the channel for rendezvous docking and conduct applied tests there. Based on the technologies of rendezvous docking, support will be available for the space station and the space lab in the future, such as sending astronauts and delivering goods.
Li indicated that the target vessel is also being researched and developed. It will be an unmanned craft, but since astronauts will enter it to carry out experiments it will also be habitable.
"Rendezvous docking will present many challenges," said Li Yuqing, "but once each technical problem is solved, we'll move closer to our aim."
(China.org.cn by Wang Wei, September 28, 2008)