Shenzhou (spacecraft)

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Shenzhou spacecraft
Post S-7 Shenzhou spacecraft.png
Diagram of the post-Shenzhou 7 spacecraft
Country of originChina
ApplicationsManned spaceflight
Design life20 days[citation needed]
Launch mass7,840 kilograms (17,280 lb)
Dimensions9.25 by 2.8 metres (30.3 ft × 9.2 ft)
Volume14.00 cubic metres (494 cu ft)
RegimeLow Earth
StatusIn service
First launchShenzhou 1, 1999
Last launchShenzhou 11, 2016
Related spacecraft
Derived fromSoyuz

Shenzhou (/ˈʃɛnˈ/[1] or /ʃɛnˈz/; Chinese: 神舟; pinyin: Shénzhōu) is a spacecraft developed and operated by China using Soyuz technology to support its manned spaceflight program. The name is variously translated as divine vessel,[2], divine craft,[3] or divine ship.[4] Its design resembles the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, but it is larger in size. The first launch was on November 19, 1999 and the first manned launch was on October 15, 2003. In March 2005, an asteroid was named 8256 Shenzhou in honour of the spacecraft.


China's first efforts at human spaceflight started in 1968 with a projected launch date of 1973.[5] Although China launched an unmanned satellite in 1970 and has maintained an active unmanned program since, this attempt was canceled due to lack of funds and political interest.[citation needed]

The first unmanned flight of the spacecraft was launched on November 19, 1999, after which Project 921/1 was renamed Shenzhou, a name reportedly[by whom?] chosen by Jiang Zemin.[citation needed] A series of three additional unmanned flights ensued. It is expected that later craft will be designed to carry a crew of four instead of Soyuz's three, although physical limitations on astronaut size, as experienced with earlier incarnations of Soyuz,[citation needed] will likely apply.[citation needed]

Missions launched[edit]

Planned missions[edit]

  • Shenzhou 12 (神舟十二号) – 2018[11]


The Shenzhou spacecraft resembles the Soyuz, although it is longer, with a larger habitable volume. It features a powered service module like the Soyuz, and prior to Shenzhou 8 its orbital module was capable of autonomous flight. The general designer of Shenzhou-1 through Shenzhou-5 was Qi Faren (戚发轫, Apr 26, 1933 -), and from Shenzhou-6 on, the general design was turned over to Zhang Bainan (张柏楠, Jun 23, 1962 -).

Russia sold Soyuz technology to China in 1994. The design of Project 921-1 spacecraft was modified and eventually became the Shenzhou. [12]

Like Soyuz, Shenzhou consists of three modules: a forward orbital module (轨道舱), a reentry module (返回舱) in the middle, and an aft service module (推进舱). This division is based on the principle of minimizing the amount of material to be returned to Earth. Anything placed in the orbital or service modules does not require heat shielding, and this increases the space available in the spacecraft without increasing weight as much as it would if those modules were also able to withstand reentry. Thus both Soyuz and Shenzhou have more living area with less weight than the Apollo CSM.

Complete spacecraft data
Total mass: 7,840 kg
Length: 9.25 m
Diameter: 2.80 m
Span: 17.00 m

Orbital module[edit]

Shenzhou's Orbital Module prior to S8

The orbital module (轨道舱) contains space for experiments, crew-serviced or operated equipment, and in-orbit habitation. Without docking systems, Shenzhou 1–6 carried different kinds of payload on the top of their orbital modules for scientific experiments.

Up until Shenzhou 8, the orbital module of the Shenzhou was equipped with its own propulsion, solar power, and control systems, allowing autonomous[clarification needed] flight. It was possible for Shenzhou to leave an orbital module in orbit for redocking with a later spacecraft, something which the Soyuz cannot do since the only hatch between orbital and reentry modules is a part of reentry module, and orbital module is depressurized after separation. In the future it is possible that the orbital module(s) could also be left behind on the planned Chinese project 921/2 space station as additional station modules.

In the unmanned test flights launched to date, the orbital module of each Shenzhou was left functioning on orbit for several days after the reentry modules return, and the Shenzhou 5 orbital module continued to operate for six months after launch.

Orbital module data
Design life: 200 days.
Length: 2.80 m (9.10 ft).
Basic diameter: 2.25 m (7.38 ft).
Maximum diameter: 2.25 m (7.38 ft).
Span: 10.40 m (34.10 ft).
Habitable volume: 8.00 m³.
Mass: 1,500 kg (3,300 lb).
RCS Coarse No x Thrust: 16 x 5 N.
RCS Propellants: Hydrazine.
Electrical system: Solar panels, 12.24 m².
Electric system: 0.50 average kW.
Electric system: 1.20 kW.

Reentry module[edit]

The reentry module (返回舱) is located in the middle section of the spacecraft and contains seating for the crew. It is the only portion of Shenzhou which returns to Earth's surface. Its shape is a compromise between maximizing living space while allowing for some aerodynamic control upon reentry.

Reentry module data
Crew size: 3.
Design life: 20 days.
Length: 2.50 m (8.20 ft).
Basic diameter: 2.52 m (8.26 ft).
Maximum diameter: 2.52 m (8.26 ft).
Habitable volume: 6.00 m³.
Mass: 3,240 kg (7,140 lb).
Heat shield mass: 450 kg (990 lb)
Lift-to-drag-ratio (hypersonic): 0.30.
RCS Coarse No x Thrust: 8 x 150 N.
RCS Propellants: Hydrazine

Service module[edit]

The aft service module (推进舱) contains life support and other equipment required for the functioning of Shenzhou. Two pairs of solar panels, one pair on the service module, the other pair on the orbital module, have a total area of over 40 m² (430 ft²), indicating average electrical power over 1.5 kW (Soyuz have 1.0 kW).

Service module data
Design life: 20 days.
Length: 2.94 m (9.65 ft).
Basic diameter: 2.50 m (8.20 ft).
Maximum diameter: 2.80 m (9.10 ft).
Span: 17.00 m (55.00 ft).
Mass: 3,000 kg (6,600 lb).
RCS Coarse No x Thrust: 8 x 150 N.
RCS Fine No x Thrust: 16 x 5 N.
RCS Propellants: N2O4/MMH, unified system with main engine.
Main engine: 4 x 2500 N.
Main engine thrust: 10.000 kN (2,248 lbf).
Main engine propellants: N2O4/MMH.
Main engine propellants: 1,000 kg (2,200 lb).
Main engine Isp: 290 sec.
Electrical system: Solar panels, 24.48 + 12.24 m², 36.72 m² total.
Electric system: 1.00 average kW.
Electric system: 2.40 kW.

In media[edit]

  • The Shenzhou was prominently featured in the film Gravity and was used by the main character, STS-157 Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone, to safely return home after the destruction of her spacecraft[13][14].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Shenzhou pronunciation". Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  2. ^ "Expedition 7 Crew Members Welcome China to Space". NASA. 17 October 2003. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  3. ^ Scuka, Daniel (26 March 2018). "Tiangong-1 frequently asked questions". ESA. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  4. ^ "China's Shenzhou spacecraft – the "divine ship"". New Scientist. 12 October 2005. Retrieved 17 August 2018.
  5. ^ Mark Wade (2009). "Shuguang 1". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on July 14, 2007. Retrieved March 4, 2009.
  6. ^ "《北京晚报》:探秘"神舟"三号中的"假人"". Retrieved 4 April 2002.
  7. ^ Amos, Jonathan (2011-10-31). "Chinese Shenzhou craft launches on key space mission". BBC. Retrieved 2011-11-01. 'China has taken the next step in its quest to become a major space power with the launch of the unmanned Shenzhou 8 vehicle... The Long March carrier rocket lifted away from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert at 05:58, Tuesday (21:58 GMT Monday). TV cameras relayed the ascent to orbit.' with the two piloted missions to be launched in 2012
  8. ^ "Chinese astronauts return to Earth". The Hindu. Associated Press. 29 June 2012. Retrieved April 23, 2017.
  9. ^ David, Leonard (2011-03-07). "China Details Ambitious Space Station Goals". Retrieved 2011-03-11.
  10. ^ Stephen Clark. "China Sets Summer Launch For Next Human Spaceflight". Retrieved 2012-02-18.
  11. ^ "神舟十二号飞船(SZ-12):对接2018年发射升空的空间站核心舱。 - China Spaceflight". Retrieved 2016-10-18.
  12. ^ Futron Corp. (2003). "China and the Second Space Age" (PDF). Futron Corporation. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 19, 2012. Retrieved October 6, 2011.
  13. ^ Kramer, Miriam (October 6, 2013). "The Spaceships of 'Gravity': A Spacecraft Movie Guide for Astronauts". Yahoo. Retrieved April 23, 2017.
  14. ^ Lyons, Lauren (October 19, 2003). "'Gravity,' China and the end of American Exceptionalism in outer space". Spaceflight Insider. Retrieved April 23, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]