China will launch another spacecraft in June to dock with its Tiangong-1 space lab, and one more spaceship next year to conduct a more demanding manual docking, according to sources with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CAST), the Legal Mirror reported Wednesday.
The country's first successful space docking maneuver took place between Shenzhou-8 and the orbiting Tiangong-1 late last year.
While it is known that Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 are part of the program to establish a manned space station, earlier reports only said the two would be launched in the first and second half of this year, and no information about crew was released.
The Shenzhou-9 mission will still focus on docking, separating and docking with Tiangong-1 to ensure safety in the coming manned mission, Zhu Yilin, a researcher with CAST and a member of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), told the Legal Mirror.
Shenzhou-9 will also carry out other space experiments, such as carrying seeds and animals into a space environment of radiation and weightlessness.
Shenzhou-9 will try opening the passageway linking the spaceship and Tiangong-1 when they dock, a move not carried out in the Shenzhou-8 mission, Zhu said.
However, Pang Zhihao, a researcher from CAST, said it has not been decided whether the Shenzhou-9 mission will be manned or not.
"It will carry out automatic docking with the Tiangong-1 vehicle, if it is still unmanned, but for a manned mission, astronauts will definitely carry out manual docking," he told the Global Times.
Manual docking has a higher success rate than automatic docking, but requires that astronauts have a high level of skill and be in strong psychological condition, said Pang, adding that Russia uses automatic docking in most of its missions, while the US mainly uses manual docking.
According to the Legal Mirror report, the Shenzhou-9's main ground tests have been completed, and the Tiangong-2 space lab, which is a backup for Tiangong-1, is ready to be rolled out.
China formally began its manned space program in 1992, successfully launching Shenzhou-5 in 2003 for its first manned space mission. A space walk was accomplished in 2008.