Video: Shenzhou-8 to return to earth on Thursday evening
BEIJING, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft will return to Earth Thursday evening following China's first space docking procedure with space lab module Tiangong-1.
The Shenzhou-8 is scheduled to touch down around 7 p.m. at a landing site located in Siziwang Banner (county) in north China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
The landing site has been on alert since the spacecraft was launched into orbit. The area in which the craft may land is 15 times larger than the landing zones used in previous missions, making it more difficult to retrieve the craft, said Zhang Haidong, commander-in-chief of landing operations for China's manned space program.
Zhang said the task of retrieving the Shenzhou-8 will be "tremendous," despite the fact that the craft is unmanned. The craft has been in space for 17 days, much longer than China's previous missions, Zhang said.
"All of these requirements have made our workload heavier than before," Zhang said.
A search and recovery team has been organized for the return of the spacecraft, according to Zhang, adding that the craft should be retrieved within two and a half hours of landing. The search and recovery team will use four helicopters equipped with receivers designed to detect signals from the craft, Zhang said.
After reaching the craft, the team will conduct a series of inspections and collect data from the vessel. Incubators inside the craft must be handled delicately and sent back to Beijing promptly, as they contain biological experiments jointly conducted by Chinese and German scientists, Zhang said.
Six of China's seven previously launched spacecraft landed in the grasslands of Siziwang banner. The region is well-suited for spacecraft landings, as it is sparsely populated, is relatively flat and has few trees or natural formations that could cause problems during landing procedures.
The region is also free of high-voltage power lines, railways or rivers, all of which could pose a threat to a returning spacecraft. The area's dry weather and high visibility are expected to aid the search team in finding and recovering the craft.
Special Report: Shenzhou-8's docking mission with Tiangong-1