Australia Ready For Shenzhou Emergency
Australian authorities are ready to rescue China's next astronauts in the event that the Shenzhou 6 spacecraft makes an emergency landing in Australia.
Emergency Management Australia, a national body roughly equivalent to FEMA in the USA, has developed procedures for use in the recovery of a stricken spacecraft. EMA has previously prepared for dealing with the recovery and containment of space debris and hazardous materials from satellites. Such an "off the shelf" plan will help to co-ordinate a response to an emergency Shenzhou landing in this nation.
Just days before the launch of China's first manned space mission in October 2003, Chinese authorities issued a request to the Australian government for assistance in the event that the spacecraft landed on the continent. China's first astronaut, Yang Liwei, made several passes over Australia during his mission. After 14 orbits, he landed safely in China's Inner Mongolia region.
A pamphlet issued by the Chinese government after the flight of Shenzhou 5 states that "10 rescue areas both home and abroad were arranged in advance" of the mission. The pamphlet does not give details of the locations, but notes that in addition to these sites (presumably all land-based) Shenzhou 5 had three rescue zones at sea.
The pamphlet states that Shenzhou "has the capability of autonomous return in case of emergency" in addition to a return controlled by an astronaut. Shenzhou 5, which orbited for roughly one day, could have returned after two or three days in space if an earlier landing had not been possible.
On October 8 this year, a report on China's CRI Online Web site noted that "around ten rescue areas have been set up" for the Shenzhou 6 mission. This statement suggests that rescue arrangements are basically the same as they were for Shenzhou 5 in 2003, with some potential uncertainty about the availability of some emergency landing sites.
This could be the result of tardy negotiations, or a decision on the part of China not to issue alerts to some places unless they are actually required for a rescue.
In addition to these issues, it's also possible that the recent horrific earthquake in Pakistan, which has produced tens of thousands of casualties, has disrupted the potential availability of any emergency landing sites in South Asia.
Last week, an EMA spokesman informed SpaceDaily that no official request for assistance with the Shenzhou 6 mission had been submitted to the Australian government. But EMA had been monitoring media reports leading up to the mission to help prepare for any contingencies.
The expected launch date for Shenzhou 6 has recently been reported as October 12, assuming that the launch is not delayed. EMA has since told SpaceDaily that as of 4:30 PM on October 10, Sydney time, there had still been no request from China. Nevertheless, EMA was alerting state governments around Australia about the mission, in case of an emergency.
The size of the Australian continent makes it an ideal zone for the emergency recovery of a spacecraft. Australia has also prepared for the recovery of a sample return capsule from the Japanese Hayabusa spacecraft in 2007.
In addition to the emergency landing procedures, CRI Online also noted that two landing sites will also be ready for the pre-planned landing of Shenzhou 6. A landing site near the Jiuquan launch base will be added to the previously used site in Inner Mongolia, to offer more flexibility in the event of bad weather. Recent events in the return of the Space Shuttle Discovery, which had to postpone its landing due to bad weather in Florida, could have influenced this decision.
Copyright 2005 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International