Chinese Shenzhou-7 Spaceship Imaged by Microsatellite

Shenzhou-7 imaged by the BX-1 small monitoring satellite six minutes after it was released from the main ship (Xinhua Photo)
Shenzhou-7 imaged by the BX-1 small monitoring satellite six minutes after it was released from the main ship (Xinhua Photo)

On September 27th (Saturday), two hours after Zhai Zhigang completed China’s first ever space walk, the Shenzhou-7 spaceship launched a mini-monitoring satellite to orbit its mothership. Although it might have been a better idea to launch BX-1 before Zhai started his EVA (thereby stemming some of the accusations that China had faked the whole event), the images BX-1 returned were pretty impressive. According to state-run news sources, the BX-1 has taken over 1,000 images, the first one was taken only six seconds after being released…

The view of Shenzhou-7 over Earth, three minutes after the monitoring satellite was released on September 27th, 2008 (Xinhua Photo)
The view of Shenzhou-7 over Earth, three minutes after the monitoring satellite was released on September 27th, 2008 (Xinhua Photo)

This interesting addendum to the Chinese spacewalk on September 27th. The Shenzhou-7 spacecraft was carrying a miniaturized satellite, only 40 kg in mass, to orbit the main spaceship for a period of three months (Wikipedia source, translated text). The bulk of the spaceship was left to orbit the Earth after the three taikonauts took the re-entry vehicle and descended to terra firma. The 40 cm-long sided cube carries two 150 megapixel stereo cameras (although the quality of the images released don’t really showcase this high resolution) and a liquid ammonia engine.

According to the Chinese-language mission plans, the microsatellite BX-1 carried out a highly elliptical orbit of Shenzhou-7, taking it a distance of 100-200 km away. After the crew return module dropped back to Earth, BX-1 had to “catch-up” with the spaceship to continue its monitoring mission. As of October 5th, BX-1 was in a stable elliptical orbit of 4 km (periapsis) by 8 km (apoapsis) around the empty Shenzhou.

The view of Shenzhou-7, 6 seconds after BX-1 was released (Xinhua Photo)
The view of Shenzhou-7, 6 seconds after BX-1 was released (Xinhua Photo)

Since September 30th, mission control has been modifying BX-1’s orbit six times to draw it closer to Shenzhou-7. On Wednesday, they succeeded, bringing the tiny satellite within a few km of its mothership. So far, officials say that over a thousand images have been taken by BX-1 from all angles and that all the pictures were “clear and complete.”

While all this sounds very cool (after all, this is the first time I’ve ever heard about the use of a tiny monitoring satellite after a manned mission), I would love to see some higher resolution imagery from BX-1. I would also like to see some more documentation on the technology behind this interesting cube. Unfortunately, I doubt the Chinese space agency will be as forthcoming with that information…

Source: Xinhuanet
Track Shenzhou-7 and BX-1 using real-time satellite tracking…

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10 thoughts on “Chinese Shenzhou-7 Spaceship Imaged by Microsatellite”

  1. I know this is off topic but I have heard that there is an astroid headed toward Earth and it will be here April 2029 and if it doesn’t hit then it would be back 7 years later. Is it true and shoulld I be worried.

    P.S. Your 2012 articles have helped me alot. When I heard that Mayan prophecy stuff from a friend I wasn’t planning on continuing high school. I was just going to drop out and hide, but somehow I found your article and I’m glad I did. Now I actually look forward to graduating. Thank you so much!

  2. Hi Tiya, glad you’re looking forward to graduating now 🙂 I hope you have an awesome party!

    The asteroid Apophis has been tracked and for a while there was some concern that it might hit Earth in 2029. However, the concern has died down as it looks like there is very little risk to us. According to NASA predictions, the probability of this object hitting Earth is as low as 1 in 45,000, and the risk is decreasing the more we observe it – which is a really good thing 🙂 Here is more detail on the asteroid: http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/apophis/

    So, don’t be concerned with 2029, Apophis might be considered a “Near Earth Object” but it certainly wont hit us.

    Cheers, Ian

  3. Hi, I am so skeptical about this tiny satellite orbiting the spacecraft. This doesn’t fit the law of gravity. The spacecraft is not a planet. Its gravitational field can not pull the satellite into orbit. How the heck can it orbit the spacecraft??

  4. Hi Ian,Thank you for the wonderful post. Now that China is starting to be in the space, No doubt that more exploration will be made. I believe that this is just a test for a bigger lunch. And hopefully this will be for good and not for selfish and evil reasons.-Angella WilsonMy Last Blog Post Revitol Stretch Mark Cream Review

  5. This is my first time I visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the excellent work.

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