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China To Snap 4 Space Ships Into a Station 340

hackingbear writes "According to a report by Hong Kong newspaper Mingpao Daily (poor Google translation), quoting the Director of Jiuquan Launch Center, China is set to build a space station by snapping together four spaceships (Shenzhou 7, 8, 9, and 10), to be launched sequentially. Though other reports indicates that taikonauts abroad SZ 7 will return to Earth on September 28, the official said the ship will remain in the orbit to be docked with unmanned Shenzhou 8 and 9. Finally, the manned spaceship Shenzhou 10 will be launched and dock with the other three, completing the space station." A story at also briefly mentions Shenzhous 8 and 9 (with no mention of number 10), and adds that China has selected its first spacewalker.
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China To Snap 4 Space Ships Into a Station

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  • Hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:20AM (#25039469)

    I dunno... I used to build those "snap together" model kits. They really might want to consider going with cement.

  • Voltron! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ambiguous Coward ( 205751 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:23AM (#25039519) Homepage

    I'm sorry, I couldn't help it. I tagged this with "voltron"


  • by ccccc ( 888353 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:24AM (#25039529)
    Does anyone else find the practice of using the foreign-language version of "astronaut" a bit annoying? It seems a bit bizarre.

    A Chinese astronaut is... an astronaut. A Russian astronaut is... an astronaut. You'll notice that during the Olympics, Chinese athletes were still called "athlete."

    Why arbitrarily translate some words into the foreign language?
    • Maybe the constituent syllables of the word have a different meaning in that language.. one that is irreverent or confusing?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by clone53421 ( 1310749 )

        Since the rest of the summary was written in English, I doubt very much that anyone would be confused.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        So what? They can call it whatever they want in their language. (You think that the Chinese word for "Taikonaut" is actually "Taikonaut"? Think again!) English words for foreign people are still English words.

        • by RudeIota ( 1131331 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @01:12PM (#25041241) Homepage
          As the parent pointed out, Chinese, Russians etc.. have their OWN words for "astronaut"... kosmonavt [], taikong ren [] etc... ****naut isn't what they call their own astronauts.

          A 'taikonaut' is actually what "English people" (mostly media, I imagine) call a Chinese taikong ren. I would assume translators and english-speaking media do so because languages based on a different alphabet systems are difficult to pronounce and spell phonetically... And while astronaut would be just fine with me, I guess there is some need to supplement 'naut' (which seems to imply 'explorer') with a version of their native word for space.

          Personally, I'd like to see the word 'astronaut' used instead of flavor_of_the_month_onaut, because that's what they are in English.. an astronaut. Shame on the translator for making arbitrary, cultural concessions.
    • by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:34AM (#25039707)
      A Chinese astronaut is... an astronaut. A Russian astronaut is... an astronaut.

      You mean: A Chinese cosmonaut is... a cosmonaut. An American cosmonaut is... a cosmonaut. After all, Russians used the name cosmonaut first, the Americans user astronaut to be different. Cosmonaut makes more sense anyway, at least until we have a manned flight to the stars
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheLink ( 130905 )
      Astronauts are considered "home team".

      Cosmonauts = evil russkies.

      Now that China is the other bogeyman country, we have to give their astronauts a different name to distinguish them. Hence taikonaut.

      Try to keep up with the propaganda will you? ;)
    • An early word for balloonists was 'aeronaut,' which might have been the inspiration for 'astronaut.' Athletes have been around for a long time, so the language surrounding them has had plenty of time to settle down. Manned space flight is still relatively new in terms of linguistic evolution, so the language is still in a little bit of flux. It used to be that aviators were just people involved in the actual operation of the flying machine, but once passengers started travelling on planes we stopped talk
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Especially since Taikonaut is an annoying abbreviation, at that. Space should actually be åç© (tai4 kong1). Guess having a double ng-n (taikongnaut?) wouldn't roll off the tongue as quickly.
    • Obviously, the state media and politicians in those countries approve of the terms. Who are you to tell them otherwise? I doubt there's a real controversy here.

  • In Chinese, it literally means "space person", which is what they call all professional space-faring people (eg astronaut, cosmonaut, etc.) no matter what their respective countries call them. So why don't we just call them all "astronauts"?

    • I asked a Chinese friend of mine, he said it sounds like it comes from the Chinese word for cosmos. Then I looked it up on Wikipedia and it states it's from taikong ren (yes, I butchered the accents of that) using using taikon- for cosmo- or astro- in English.

  • No, No, No! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:26AM (#25039565) Journal
    China doesn't snap space ships together to make a space station, it secretly fits engines to its space station and uses it as a ship and plans to refuel on Europa.
  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:30AM (#25039659)

    One feature of the Shenzhou capsule is that the orbit module (which detaches from the reentry module before reentry) can stay in function as a separate spacecraft.

    Thus part of Shenzhou 7 will stay in space to form part of the station, and part of it will return the men home.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      ...and part of it will return the men home.

      At which point it will pick up the fifth passenger and return to form the head.

      Question: I know we pay a lot of attention to the nuclear capabilities of other countries, but has anyone stopped to examine their Blazing Sword capabilities as well? This is no time to let down our guard!


  • Sky lab was hurried to put together and the only tragedy was that they couldn't keep it in orbit. I suppose the Chinese attempt will also end in falling from space if they can't figure out how to refuel it and keep it higher in orbit.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Eighty7 ( 1130057 )
      Unlike Skylab, I'm sure China consulted the Japanese Agriculture Ministry.
    • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:12PM (#25040277)
      Both SkyLab and this station are supposed to be disposable - besides, you simply attach a new segment each time you need to and exhaust that segments fuel supply boosting it to a good orbit.
    • Not quite true (Score:5, Informative)

      by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @04:47PM (#25044853)
      Skylab actually spent several years in development and was intended to be used for a fairly long term. It was to be kept up by reboosts from the Apollo spacecraft that visited it, so it was possible to keep it in orbit. In fact, NASA was considering using the cancelled fourth manned visit to the station to primarily boost it high enough that it would stay in orbit until the shuttle's planned entry into service in 1979 (which ended up being two years late). However, the limitations of the station, compared to the capabilities of the shuttle (especially with a spacehab module in the payload bay), damage sustained during its launch, and the need for on-orbit maintenance led to those plans being cancelled.

      Initial design work on Skylab began in 1966, 7 years before it was launched, as part of the Apollo Applications Program. The original plan was to use the second stage of a Saturn-1B rocket, which was actually the same as the third stage of the Saturn V. Because of the smaller capacity of the Saturn 1B, it would be a fully fueled stage with access points added so the first crew could enter the empty stage in orbit and convert the interior, which only had minimal gear at the time of launch. This was called the "wet lab" configuration.

      The limitations and complexity of that approach led to a switch to the Saturn V, launching its converted third stage dry and much more fully outfitted (which they could now afford to do since it was full of cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen), including a large docking module at one end, plus all the necessary life-support gear. A large optical telescope was also attached. Three manned missions ultimately were conducted on board Skylab.

      The Chinese should be able to similarly reboost this mini space station and replenish consumables each time they visit. However, this will be a very small station. The total interior volume of four Shenzhou orbital modules is barely more than 10% of the interior volume of Skylab and about 1/3 the size of the Soviet Salyut stations. It will also have limited amounts of consumables and power. It won't afford them a lot of versatility.
  • by J05H ( 5625 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:35AM (#25039723) Homepage

    They must be talking about leaving the Hab/Orbital module on orbit for SZ7. Since ShenZhou is a modernized Soyuz, it's fairly simple. The pressurized top module has independent RCS thrusters and is designed to act as a satellite after detaching from the descent module. The previous SZ flights have included experiments and observation packages that continued long after crew return - this is a logical extension of that concept. The article refers to SZ7 as a "target vehicle" - guarantee that is referring only to the orbital module.

    IIRC, the Chinese were shopping around a "long node" station design a decade ago - this is the operational version of those viewgraphs.

    Unless they plan to dock the orbital modules in sequence, one of the vehicles must include a Node - my guess is SZ8 but it could be 9, these are both uncrewed so that helps with the mass of additional docking adapters.


    • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:57AM (#25040047)
      Shenzhou is NOT a 'modernized Soyuz' - it has a similar appearance to Soyuz simply because of the practicalities of building a spacecraft, but don't try and imply the Chinese do not have an indigenous spaceflight capability.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Shenzhou is NOT a 'modernized Soyuz' - it has a similar appearance to Soyuz simply because of the practicalities of building a spacecraft, but don't try and imply the Chinese do not have an indigenous spaceflight capability.

        If by indigenous you mean copied bolt for bolt from somebody else's design, then yes you're right :P

      • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:35PM (#25040663) Homepage Journal

        The Chinese are not as stupid as you seem to think. Of course they're not going to start from scratch when there is so much historical data, designs, and expertise available for sale right next door. It seems like the Chinese space technology took the best-of-breed (ie. mostly Russian) technology and modernized it using Chinese "indigenous spaceflight capability". I'm not sure why you jumped on this as somehow anti-Chinese, but it strikes me as by far the most intelligent thing to do. (After all, the US is licensing Russian technology to hold us over after the Shuttle retires, and we're not stupid either...)

      • by J05H ( 5625 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:48PM (#25040865) Homepage

        you so obviously have not followed the development of China's manned spaceflight program and the Shen Zhou spacecraft.

        "After China and Russia signed a space cooperation agreement in 1996, the two countries carried out very fruitful cooperation in docking system installations, model spaceships, flight control, and means of life support and other areas of manned space flight. Russia's experience in space technology development was and is of momentous significance as enlightenment to China."

        As direct visual evidence, the Shen Zhou mold line is identical to Soyuz, uses APAS-89 and the spacesuits the crew wear are thread-for-thread copies of Russian "Sokol" suits. Even the toilet is in the same location. Shen Zhou uses modern, native systems and has advanced abilities (like leaving the OM on-orbit) but is definitely based on Soyuz.

        The implication is not that China lacks indigenous spaceflight but that they are smart enough to partner with organizations that bring technology to them.

    • And a logical extension to this is docking these things together with propulsion stages, refuelling the entire stack on orbit and doing lunar and planetary trips with all that. That was the original direction of Gemini program with Gemini-Agena docking and propuslion tests, and this was the most proposed approach by industry partners for the current US Constellation/CEV program as well.
      Unfortunately, in both cases US went with "WDYM modular and small ? lets build a biiiig frikken rocket!" approach which was

  • I was reading about the fighter pilot china chose ( [] ), and this is crazy ...

    A 42-year-old fighter pilot has been chosen to become the first Chinese person to walk in space... Zhai Zhigang, a colonel in the People's Liberation Army...His pressurised spacesuit, which cost up to 100 million yuan (15 million dollars), is largely based on Russian designs and will include two lifelines that will supply oxygen and communications

    China is spending milli
    • China is spending millions on space suits and America is spending millions on bailing out big corporations. Strange how that works, huh?

      Maybe they should spend that to keep people from putting melamine in their food.

    • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:59AM (#25040085)

      China is spending millions on space suits and America is spending millions on bailing out big corporations. Strange how that works, huh?

      Full circle... from Wikipedia:
      "AIG's history dates back to 1919, when Cornelius Vander Starr established an insurance agency in Shanghai, China."

    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:04PM (#25040149) Journal

      And that's one of the biggest fears among some of us right now, that the US may wake up one morning and find that it has pissed away its advantage. I'm hoping that the opposite happens, that some real competition to the current American-Russian space alliance will convince Washington that there is something very real and tangible to be lost here.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by smchris ( 464899 )

        the US may wake up one morning and find that it has pissed away its advantage

        Might want to check out the news the last couple weeks.

  • Taikonauts? (Score:4, Funny)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:38AM (#25039785) Journal

    Look. "Astronaut" is Greek. "Cosmonaut" also Greek. "Taikonaut" is dumb.

    But it's not the fault of the Chinese. They call their space travelers "Yuhangyuan".

  • Now taking bets ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:41AM (#25039815)

    First country to establish a permanent lunar base?

    First country to establish a permanent martian colony?

    I know where my money is riding.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Erwos ( 553607 )

      So, let me get this straight: the Chinese do something that both Russia and the US have done something like 30-40 years ago, and they're suddenly leaders in the space race? Seriously, talk about extrapolating way too much from a single event.

      The US has a relatively concrete, well-funded plan to do the lunar base. Complain as you might about Bush, gutting NASA was not one of his many sins.

      • by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:49AM (#25039945)
        Watch that 'relatively concrete, well-funded plan' go out the window after the elections. People like exciting NASA plans. People don't like paying for exciting NASA plans.
      • by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:02PM (#25040119)
        I'm mostly basing my assertion on the fact that right now China is swimming in money, productive industrial capacity, and national ambition ... while America is swimming in Fail.
        • It's the ambition that's the key ingredient here. The US had more fire in its gut to go to the Moon in the 1960s. The Soviets scored the early successes, but couldn't or wouldn't capitalize on it to get the big prize.

          China's space program is still, by US and Russian standards, pretty damned primitive, but let's remember that this is a country that in the space of just three decades has shirked off all the madness of Mao and the Cultural Revolution to become the fastest growing economy on the planet.

          And be

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by c6gunner ( 950153 )

          I'm mostly basing my assertion on the fact that right now China is swimming in money,

          China GDP: $10.17 trillion
          US GDP: $13.13 trillion
          China Population: 1,321,851,888
          US Population: 301,139,947

          I guess if by "swimming in money" you mean "less than one quarter US GDP per capita", then yeah, they sure are!

          productive industrial capacity

          Man, I've seen the crash tests [] of their new "car". You know it's bad when the technicians are laughing in the background. They might have industrial capacit

          • Oh no, you are using PPP values! You! You! Gah! ...Why don't people learn!? You use GDP nominal, as in real money, to measure the economic power of different countries.

            With GDP nominal the figures are:

            • USA: 13,84 trillion
            • China: 3,25 trillion

            In real money terms China has the economic power equaling Germany that has GDP nominal of 3,32 trillion.

    • is on private enterprise. I think that before 2020 that Private enterprise will have a base on the moon, and by 2025, a base on mars. The reason is that being in space IS expensive. But being on the moon or mars is actually safer and cheaper. The moon will enable us to stretch out and build. The private enterprise will build at the pole using solar. American gov. will follow with nuke generator. In fact, the west will get behind Musk and Bigelow and jump on board. They will build their own infrastructure o
      • Considering that private enterprise is currently struggling with LEO, that is a laughable assertion. You will lose your money because you are a fool and thus easily parted from it.
  • by MRe_nl ( 306212 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:45AM (#25039875)

    following the launch of manned spacecraft "God 7", "God 8" and "God 9" will be unmanned spacecraft, "God 10".

    Snapping four gods together to form one orbital god?
    Or is this just a bad google translation?

    • FYI the original Chinese version abbreviated the 2 Chinese characters with just 1. I.e. It refers Shenzhou as just Shen. Shenzhou is actually 2 separated characters with Shen by itself means God and Zhou means land/place. So it's really "God's land", in which Chinese refers the term Shenzhou to China. It's like 'beefcake' has nothing to do with beef or cake :)
  • I wonder how "orbiting space barge of death" [] translates from the original Russian into Chinese.
  • Finally! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @11:52AM (#25039985)

    Instead of wasting all that thrust getting big liquid/airtight tanks into space only to let them fall back down, somebody will use them to expand our spaceborne volume.

    Spacestations would be much cheaper if every rocket became an addon, even if they were only useable as liquid storage. Larger air capacity=less crisis when the scrubbers/recyclers fail.

    Hell, grew some veggies in them, cut down on the vitamins we have to ship up.

    • That's exactly what I thought when looking at the ESA Jules Verne ATV. Sent up unmanned, it automatically docks and you've got a pressurized extension to the ISS. After taking the contents, they loaded it up with trash, undocked it and burnt it up re-entering the atmosphere. What I can't understand is why not construct the station this way? Send up a whole stream of these automated vehicles to interconnect with each other - you wouldn't even need to send people up until there was a substantial station built

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by OolimPhon ( 1120895 )
        This is exactly how Mir was built, and the first two segments of the ISS (the russian ones) were sent up and joined in that way too.
  • I'd be interested to know how much this launch/assemble space station is going to cost the Chinese, and then comparing how much the ISS cost.

    I know they build things cheaper in China, but I thought that was just t-shirts and sneakers and stuff.

    • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:30PM (#25040579)

      This brings up an interesting point. Fifty years ago, we had a similar view of Japan. That is, that they just made cheap little trinkets, but REAL manufacturing was done in the U.S. Then, almost overnight, they began making extremely good quality automobiles, electronics, optics, etc, and did it at less cost. I think we'll soon see the same pattern with China.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, after Japan did it, Taiwan did the same, and they were also considered cheap crap in the beginning. Now they're considered high tech and produce first-class stuff.

        Then after Taiwan did it, Korea did it. People used to laugh at Goldstar and their crappy TVs. Then Goldstar changed name to LG and they're one of the market leaders.

        So yeah, it's possible that China will do the same, especially considering the pure volume they are producing and how much they're investing in engineering and education.

  • Mir then (Score:3, Informative)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:00PM (#25040107) Homepage Journal

    So they are after their own Mir station, so what? USSR has done that on multiple occasions (put together space capsules into some sort of a space station configuration.) It's just good engineering, but in this case it is not surprising at all, considering that Chinese space industry is sort of regurgitation Russian space industry.

  • Good for them.

    China may well do this right, the 1950s Collier's space program way. Just mass produce and launch medium-sized rockets until there's a real space station in orbit. The problem with NASA has always been that they don't do anything in volume, so their costs are too high.

  • Proper translation (Score:5, Informative)

    by gzipped_tar ( 1151931 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:07PM (#25040197) Journal

    I know this is Slashdot, but here T properly translated FA. Contents inside [] are mine.

    Bad article (it's tautology -- blame the writer) and bad translation (blame me).

    Space Lab Planned after Shenzhou-X Launch

    Mr. Cui Ji-Jun, director of Jiuquan Space Launch Center, today told the media that the Shenzhou-VIII and -IX spaceships, which are scheduled after this year's manned Shenzhou-VII unit, will both be unmanned. The tenth of the series will again send astronauts into space and snap with an orbiting target. After that, work will be done to construct a space-based laboratory.

    According to the Qilu Evening [a Shandon-based newspaper], Mr. Cui said the featured task of Shenzhou-VII will be a spacewalk. Three astronauts will be aboard: one will take the walk out of the ship, another one will assist him in the orbiting unit (of Shenzhou-VII), and the third in the return unit. Cui also explained the reason behind the decision of launching the spaceship at night. [However the news fails to tell what it is:(]

    Shenzhou-VIII and -IX, Unmanned

    Cui said after Shenzhou-VII gets launched, a Target unit will be sent to space, and later the VIII to X units. Shenzhou-VIII, unmanned, will go after the Target unit and join with it. The IX unit will do the same. Shenzhou-X, piloted by astronauts, will also join with the Target. After this is done, the first task will be the making of a space lab.

  • Nothing against the Chinese space program, but they've only made one manned flight and that one was just a few orbits. I think they might want to get a few more flights under their belt and make sure they've got the whole docking thing worked out and then maybe do some space walks and stuff like that.

    They haven't even done another manned space flight since their first one and it seems like this might be more hot air than anything else.
  • I find it interesting that they are all set to go for docking four ships together into a space station, and they haven't even done a spacewalk yet.

  • .. they will repeat the mission profile the Russians flew back in 1968 or so?
  • Long term planning (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zmooc ( 33175 ) <.ten.coomz. .ta. .coomz.> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @12:25PM (#25040501) Homepage

    It's simply the most logical thing to do. Launching stuff into space is so incredibly expensive that scrapping the stuff or even bringing it back to earth makes absolutely no sense financially. I've never understood why there has not been some prior planning to do this with just about any spacecraft. We'd have had a space city by now and if something broke, it could be ditched after all. Even stuff that's completely useless at the moment could still come in handy later on.

    In space useless crap is worth billions, you just have to keep it around long enough to find a use for it. There's more than enough space up there to do that;-)

  • I know, I complained about this the last time Slashdot ran a story on Chinese space program, but it simply annoys the fire out of me.

    If they are going to translate (well, it isn't even a translation, but a phonetic English spelling of a Chinese word) the Chinese word for "taikonaut", then they really ought to "translate" the word "Director" too, since they are both occupations held by a Chinese person. If you're going to make us have to deal with foreign pronunciations when we have perfectly adequate words

  • by theolein ( 316044 ) on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @01:37PM (#25041769) Journal

    The linked article simply discusses China's gradual but steadily improving manned space programme. It says nothing about what the Chinese call their Astronauts, Tibet, Iraq, or about NASA or the shuttle. Why on earth do you people have to diss any nation that does anything positive be it Chinese, Indian, Russian or European?

    To me, it comes across as pure envy that someone else is doing things that you used to consider your own territory.

    There is nothing wrong with the American space programme and it has a long and proud tradition, and folks like the ones making the Falcon rocket look to be making space reachable by private people in the future.

    So why the pressing need to insult the Chinese?

    • by Neoprofin ( 871029 ) <> on Wednesday September 17, 2008 @02:19PM (#25042593)
      I would ask WTF is wrong with people who think that "Americans" function as a cohesive unit that can be brought to task for the actions of any single voice. It's also quite a bold (and I would bet everything I own, wrong) assumption that everything you're complaining about from this article was posted by Americans.

      It's a discussion about Chinese space plans, how is discussion of other operators in the same arena not relevant and welcomed? Why did you come here if all you wanted was a "Good for you, China. I wish you the best." What's wrong with talking about how the US would have more money for similar projects if their wasn't a war in Iraq, or how China is such a media darling these days despite a terrible record of violence and oppression? What's wrong with talking about how the media is making up names for astronauts based on nationality for no real reason?

      In short, why have "discussion" about topics if you only want to talk about them in a vacuum, a fantasy world where the only source of information, opinion, or impact, is from the article posted.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PinchDuck ( 199974 )

      As an American, I've been wondering that myself. Our country seems obsessed with looking at our past glories and bitching about our present state, and only blames others (it used to be Japan, now it's China) for our current mess. As a country, we need to pull our heads out of our asses, figure out how to solve our problems, and execute on the solutions. Will we do it? I don't know. I hope so.

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain