Report: China Tests Spacesuits, Airlock for First Spacewalk
An artist's illustration of Chinese astronauts spacewalking outside their Shenzhou spacecraft. Future Shenzhou missions will feature spacewalks ahead of orbital rendezvous and docking demonstrations.
Credit: China National Space Administration

China has successfully tested the spacesuits and airlock to be used in its first-ever spacewalk during a spaceflight later this year, the nation?s state-run media has reported.

The spacewalk will take place during the Shenzhou 7 mission, China's third manned spaceflight, which is set to launch from Jiuquan, Gansu province, in October 2008, according to recent reports by the Xinhua News Agency and China Daily.

"Both the airlock module and the extravehicular spacesuit passed the tests, which simulated the zero-gravity environment of space," China Daily quoted Yang Baohua, head of the China Academy of Space Technology, as saying. "This boosts our confidence in the spacewalk."

The extravehicular spacesuits and airlock are new technologies for China?s manned Shenzhou missions, since the country?s two previous astronaut crews did not leave the protection of their spacecraft during their flights.

The airlock is a pressure chamber that Chinese astronauts, also known as ?taikonauts,? will pass through on their way from Shenzhou to the vacuum of space outside.

Spacesuits are vital for work outside a spacecraft since they shield astronauts from the radiation and temperature changes of space, as well as provide them with food, oxygen and communication gear. They are much more challenging to design than the simple suits worn by astronauts inside the vehicle, Chinese space officials have said.

Shanghai Daily reported the new suits cost $20 million and weigh 220 pounds (100 kg) on Earth.

China is only the third country after Russia and the U.S. to independently launch astronauts into space. The nation?s Shenzhou spacecraft are based on Russia?s three-module Soyuz vehicles, but have been modernized by Chinese engineers.

While China has not named the three crewmembers for the Shenzhou 7 mission, 14 candidates are training for the spaceflight. Among them are Yang Liwei, who became his country?s first spaceflyer during the 2003 Shenzhou 5 mission, and Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng, who crewed China's second crewed mission, Shenzhou 6, in 2005.

China is expected to broadcast the upcoming spacewalk live, China Daily reported.

The extravehicular excursion is slated to last about 30 minutes, and include one or two astronauts, according to past reports. During the spacewalk, the astronauts will tighten screws and install equipment, Xinhua reported.

The mission is expected to bring China one step closer toward their goal of establishing an orbital space station and making a manned trip to the moon.

The country?s Shenzhou spacecraft include an orbital module that can remain in space to carry out experiments after the crew comes home in the reentry module. The orbital module is outfitted with solar arrays to supply it with power, and could become the base for a space station or a docking target for future spacecraft.

Shenzhou's reentry module is the world's largest, with more available space than any other, said Yang Baohua of the China Academy of Space Technology, according to China Daily.