- Class: Earth orbiting
- Discipline: Crewed
- Orbit: LEO (343 km)
- First launch: 1999-11-20
- Last launch: 2012-06-16
- Number of launches: 10
- Manufacturer: CAST, SAST
- Crew size: 3
- Orbital mass: 7,800 kg
- Launch mass: 8,130 kg
- Length: 8.65 - 9 m
- Diameter: 2.8 m
- Solar panel wingspan: 19.4 m
- Flight duration: 7 days
- Perigee: 343 km
- Apogee: 343 km
- Inclination: 42.4 - 42.7°
- Period: 90 minutes
Associated launch site
Associated launch vehicle
- Changzheng 2F - Man-rated launch vehicle for Shenzhou and Tiangong launches, 8 t payload to LEO. More...
Shenzhou (“divine vessel” or “sacred vessel” in English) is an Earth-orbiting manned spacecraft, designed to carry up to three astronauts to fly in the low Earth orbit (LEO). The spacecraft vehicle is a capsule-type, one-mission, non-reusable spacecraft vehicle, with a new example built for each flight. It is launched onboard the CZ-2F launch vehicle from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, and can operate in a 343 km, 42.5° inclined near-circular orbit for up to 7 days in a solo flight.
Shenzhou was modelled after the Russian Soyuz-TM spacecraft, consisting of a forward cylindrical orbital module, an aerodynamic re-entry module and an aft cylindrical service module. A launch escape tower is attached to the front-end of the vehicle during launch and ascent. The vehicle is nearly 9 metres in total length, with a gross launch mass of 8,130 kg and an orbital mass of 7,800 kg.Despite Chinese claim that Shenzhou’s technologies were 100% indigenous, heavy Russian influence could be seen in the design of the spacecraft's re-entry module, docking port, and the pressure suit worn by its crew. China obtained examples of the Sokol spacesuit, the entire Soyuz life-support system, the docking module and the Kurs rendezvous system, and Russian re-entry capsule from Russia, and has been using these as models for developing the relevant Shenzhou systems.
Both the orbital and re-entry modules of Shenzhou are habitable. The crew stays inside the re-entry module during launch and re-entry, and controls the spacecraft from there. When the mission is completed, the orbital and service modules are discarded, while the heat-shield-protected re-entry module carrying the crew makes an unpowered ballistic descent through the atmosphere and then deploys a parachute for a soft-landing.
Shenzhou can be configured for either solo flight missions or for rendezvous and docking with another spacecraft. Early flight missions were mainly intended for developing human space flight with rendezvous, docking and extravehicular capabilities. From Shenzhou 10 mission onwards, the spacecraft will be used to transport crew and cargo for the Tiangong Space Laboratory and the future manned space station. It will also be docked on the future space station to serve as a ‘lifeboat’, and pave the way for manned lunar landing and other manned interplanetary missions.
The Shenzhou spacecraft vehicle consists of 13 sub-systems: space frame, guidance navigation and control (GNC), data management, telemetry and communications, thermal control, propulsion, power, mission payload, environment control and life support system (ECLSS), crew, instruments and lightening, emergency rescue, and recovery and landing.
The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST, a.k.a. the Fifth Academy) was the primary contractor for the crewed spacecraft vehicle element (project code name: 921-3) of the Chinese human space flight programme (Project 921), in collaboration with the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST, a.k.a. the Eighth Academy) and a number of other organisations.
Qi Fa-ren (戚发轫), the chief designer of China’s first satellite Dongfanghong 1, was appointed the chief designer of the Shenzhou project in 1992 at age of 59. He was succeeded by his deputy Zhang Bai-nan (张柏楠) in 2004.
CAST was responsible for the spacecraft’s overall design and manufacturing. It was also responsible for the design of the orbital and re-entry modules. The assembly and tests of the spacecraft takes place in CAST’s spacecraft fabrication facility located in the Beijing Space City. SAST was responsible for the spacecraft’s service module, propulsion system, solar panel, power system, and docking system.
The spacecraft's solid-rocket-powered emergency launch escape system was developed by the Xi'an-based Academy of Aerospace Solid Propulsion Technology (AASPT, a.k.a. the Fourth Academy). Its onboard telemetry and communications systems were supplied by the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC). The environment control and life support system (ECLSS) was developed by the Beijing-based Institute of Space Medicine Engineering (507th Institute).
Shenzhou has been produced in three technical configurations:
|Flight test prototype||Shenzhou 1||1|
|Unmanned prototype||Shenzhou 2-4||3|
|Solo flight variant||Shenzhou 5-6||2|
|EVA variant||Shenzhou 7||1|
|Docking variant||Shenzhou 8-9||2|
Unmanned test flights
|Experimental prototype flight test||CZ-2F-Y1||1999-11-20||Unmanned||21h 11m||14||1999-11-21|
|Prototype flight test||CZ-2F-Y2||2001-01-10||Unmanned||6d 18h 22m||107||2001-01-16|
|Unmanned flight test||CZ-2F-Y3||2002-03-25||Unmanned||6d 18h 51m||107||2002-04-01|
|Unmanned flight test||CZ-2F-Y4||2002-12-30||Unmanned||6d 18h 36m||107||2003-01-05|
Solo crewed missions
|First manned flight, one-man crew||CZ-2F-Y5||2003-10-15||Yang Li-wei||21h 23m||14||2003-10-16|
|Two-man crew, multi-day flight||CZ-2F-Y6||2005-10-12||Fei Ju-long
|4d 19h 33m||75||2005-10-17|
|Three-man crew, first EVA attempt||CZ-2F-Y7||2008-09-27||Zhai Zhi-gang
|2d 20h 27m||45||2008-09-28|
Tiangong 1 visit missions
|Unmanned docking with Tiangong 1||CZ-2F-Y8||2011-11-01||Unmanned||16d 13h 33m||262||2011-11-17|
|First crewed visit to Tiangong 1||CZ-2F-Y9||2012-06-16||Jing Hai-peng
|Second crewed visit to Tiangong 1||CZ-2F-Y10||2013||3|
Last updated: 12 April 2013