Changzeng/Long March Series

China's space programme officially began in 1956 with the development of the Long March series of rockets, from Russian R-2 rockets, themselves improved versions of the German V-2 rockets of WW2 infamy. In 1960, however, the Soviet government discontinued co-operation with China over their space programme.

Political upheavals - the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution further delayed progress, but in 1968 the Space Flight Medical Research Centre was founded to prepare for manned flight, the Shuguang-1 project aimed to put a man in space by 1970.

By 1970, China’s first satellite, the DFH-1, was launched, using the CZ-1 rocket, making China the fifth spacefaring country in the world. China’s ICBM provided the basis for the large two stage FB-1 and CZ-2 rockets. The FB-1 was cancelled. The Shuguang-1, its officers implicated in the Lin Biao affair, was stopped. The CZ-2 however was elaborated into an extensive launch vehicle family over the next thirty years. Launches of the FSW photo reconnaissance satellite, with a recoverable re-entry capsule derived from that planned for the Shuguang-1, began in 1974.

The first public announcement of the manned program came in February, 1978. By November, the head of the Chinese Space Agency, Jen Hsin-Min, confirmed that China was working on a manned space capsule and a "Skylab" space station.

In January, 1980 the Chinese press reported a visit with the Chinese astronaut trainees at the Chinese manned spaceflight training centre. Photographs appeared of the astronauts in training. Pressure suited astronauts were shown in pressure chamber tests. Other trainees were shown at the controls of a space shuttle-like spaceplane cockpit.

A fleet of ships for recovery of manned capsules at sea was built and in May, 1980, the first capsule was recovered from the South Pacific after a suborbital launch. But then, suddenly, in December, 1980, Wang Zhuanshan, the Secretary General of the New China Space Research Society and Chief Engineer of the Space Centre of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, announced that Chinese manned flight was being postponed because of its cost. Fundamental economic development was given priority.

Commercial Launches and Manned Shenzhou series

The Chinese space agency returned to the development of more modest unmanned craft and entered the international commercial launch market in 1985

China developed new cryogenic engines and used a modular approach based on the CZ-2 design to create a family of 12 Long March rocket configurations, capable of placing up to 9,200 kg into orbit. China launched 27 foreign-made satellites in 1985-2000. A series of launch failures lead to US assistance in improving the design, resulting in 21 consecutive successful flights from October 1996 to October 2000. However by then a US embargo over improper technology transfer and collapse of the MEO satellite market led to a sharp reduction in Chinese commercial launches. Geography and the availability of existing CZ-2 launch pads resulted in China establishing three land-locked launch sites to reach various orbits. These were Jiuquan, for launch to mid-inclination orbits, Xichang for launch to geosynchronous orbit, and Taiyuan for polar orbits.

The 'Shenzhou' or 'Divine Ship' programme for eventual manned flight was restarted, and Shenzhou-1, China's first experimental spacecraft lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Gansu Province in the north-west of the country on 20 November 1999.

Glowing Fish reports that the English translation of Jiuquan is 'Whisky Springs'

The vehicle orbited the Earth for almost a day before touching down in central Inner Mongolia. The mission saw the test of a newly-built land and sea-based tracking system.

The second Shenzhou capsule was launched on 9 January 2001 and made 108 orbits of the Earth carrying animal passengers.

It landed in Inner Mongolia a week later, leaving a separate section of the spacecraft in orbit. It became evident that the Shenzhou craft was based on Russian Soyuz technology but incorporating substantial improvements.

Shenzhou 3 lifted off on 25 March 2002 and, like its predecessor, made 108 orbits and spent a week in space. It carried dummy astronauts fitted with monitoring equipment. Chinese officials said the mission confirmed the spacecraft was suitable for carrying people. They stressed though that another experimental mission would take place first.

China's final experimental launch (Shenzhou 4) prior to the despatch of a human crew took place on 30 December 2002. Shenzhou 4, like its predecessors, returned to Earth a week later. Chinese officials described the mission as a complete success and said that it showed Chinese space technology was mature enough for a manned launch.

China will become the third country after the Soviet Union and the US to put a human crew into space when it puts Shenzhou 5 into orbit. It is not clear whether the craft will carry one, two or three crew members. Most commentators expect a short mission, possibly even as short as 10 orbits before recovery.

From bbc.co.uk and astronautix.com

UPDATE.....UPDATE

As of 0100 GMT Wednesday 15th October, 2003, the first Chinese manned spaceship, Shenzhou 5, has taken off from the Jiuquan launch site in Gansu province. There is one yuhangyuan (astronaut) aboard, 38-year-old Lieutenant Yang Liwei. The craft made 14 orbits and landed 21 hours after launch near the designated landing site in Inner Mongolia

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