BEIJING, June 18 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientists and engineers
have been working hard over the past three days, calculating data
from its manned spaceship to ensure the precision needed for the
country's first manned space docking mission, the program's control
officials said on Monday.
"The frequency of guidance control from a long distance and its
requirement on precision is unprecedented," said Ma Yongping,
deputy head of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC), where
every single command for the space docking mission is issued.
Shenzhou-9, with its crew of three astronauts, successfully
docked with the Tiangong-1 lab module on Monday afternoon after
repeated orbit corrections and a long journey catching up with its
The space lab received its first visitors after the three
Chinese astronauts entered it to conduct experiments, exercise and
"Only with precision can we avoid risks, ensure safety and
achieve success," explained Qian Yongping, chief designer of the
tracking and communication system of the manned space program. "Our
mission is to be as precise as possible."
For the first step of the docking, Shenzhou-9 had to be guided
to the rendezvous point about 52 km behind Tiangong-1.
The space rendezvous and docking requires a precise match of the
orbital velocities of Shenzhou-9 and Tiangong-1, allowing them to
remain at a constant distance through orbital station-keeping.
Both the spacecraft and the lab module are flying at a speed of
7.8 km per second, making it very difficult to maintain their
relative position and height under the command of the BACC.
According to the original plan, the control center had to
conduct guidance control and changed the orbit for the spaceship
five times before the docking, using the tracking and control
system on the ground.
"But we did it after only four orbit corrections," said Tang
Geshi, a researcher at the BACC.
Tang noted the center canceled one orbit modification for
Shenzhou-9 when it was orbiting Earth for the 13th time.
The revision of the original plan came as a result of
calculations, in which researchers found they could use the fixed
deviations from the orbit changes when the spacecraft was orbiting
Earth for the fifth and 19th time to substitute a correction at the
"The simplified flight maneuvering procedure boosted safety and
reliability for our astronauts and the craft's flight rather than
undermining the precision," according to Tang.
Starting from the rendezvous point, Shenzhou-9 collected data
with its microwave and laser radars about the relative position and
state of the space lab and approached the target via a flying
course and speeds according to preset procedures.
As the aerospace tracking and control network on the ground is
restricted by factors such as distance and location, the spacecraft
can only rely on its automatic guidance when it gets closer to the
lab module, explained Qian.
The chief designer of the spacecraft tracking and control system
noted the spacecraft has been installed with modern distance
measuring devices, the accuracy of which can be kept within
To leave room for adjustment, engineers set up four berth points
for the spaceship on the same orbit five km, 400 meters, 140 meters
and 30 meters away from the orbiting lab.
Shenzhou-9 kept an unchanged relative motion from the lab at
each berth point for several minutes before the ground control
center gave the go-ahead command for further moves.
During the process, should any unexpected emergency happen,
astronauts will step in and start manual maneuvering, Qian
The astronauts will stay inside the coupled complex for six days
before the two machines separate for a manual docking attempt,
which will again test the precision of astronauts' maneuvering.