Chinese Space Program & Chinese Island Simulation

China’s near earth space program is moving forward at a steady pace. The Shenzhou (神舟) series of missions carried out over the last few years has seen the establishment of the Tiangong 1 (天宫1号) space laboratory in near earth orbit and to date two manned missions (Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 with crews of three were made up of two men and one woman each) have flown to the laboratory.


The launch of the Shenzhou 10 mission


The Chinese Island Space Program learning simulation


The history of the China space program is in some senses one that stretches back several thousand years to the invention of gunpowder. The story behind the establishment of the modern space program in China is both a fascinating and ironic one with unexpected close links in the early days to the US space program.

The Chinese Island Space Centre hosts an exhibition that provides a fascinating insight into the history and origins of the Chinese space program. A visit to the Space Centre will help students learn about the origins of gunpowder and the invention of rockets in ancient China and at the same time gain an appreciation of the ironic circumstances that in part led to China being only the third country in history to have the capacity for manned space flight.

A visit to the exhibition can be a rewarding experience for students. Using the knowledge they gain from the exhibition they will have the opportunity to make their own fireworks rocket (that actually flies) by mixing the ingredients needed to make gunpowder together in the right proportions. For the truely adventurous at heart, there is also an opportunity to become a taikonaut (太空员) and fly a mission in a simulated Shenzhou 9 rocket to the Chinese Island Tiangong 1 space laboratory. To become a taikonaut and fly a mission you will have to train hard and pass the knowledge and basic Chinese language quiz first. If you successfully pass the quiz you will be awarded your own personalised spacesuit in readiness for your flight.


 A visit to the Chinese Island Space Centre


Testing your knowledge

The biggest reward for those who pass the quiz is the chance to fly to the Chinese Island Tiangong 1 space laboratory in the Chinese Island Shenzhou 9 rocket. Experience the launch process first hand and the sensation of weightlessness when you finally reach near earth space. Pilot the command module to the Tiangong 1 space laboratory and execute docking procedures. Once onboard, after you have ensured the life support systems are fully operational, explore the space laboratory or jump straight into your mission. On the successful completion of your mission, return to the command module, undock from the space laboratory and commence the journey back to earth.


 Learning opportunities

The current exhibition and simulation is only in alpha phase. In addition to the historical information contained in the exhibition that could form the basis of a simple quiz or more in depth research by students for a larger project, there are three sample hands on mission tasks that students can perform once they reach the virtual Tiangong 1 space laboratory:

  • Language based:
    • The international flag task
      • The flags of member countries and organisations of the International Astronautical Federation were placed in the real Tiangong 1 space laboratory before it was sent up into space.
      • Students will learn the names of a range of countries in Chinese by taking on this mission task.
      • Once they have mastered the Chinese for each country name (both the pinyin spelling & the sound) they will be able to place the flag of each country in the correct display position on board the virtual Tiangong 1 space laboratory.
      • The mission task requires students to click on each of the flag display panels on the virtual space laboratory, listen to audio of the Chinese for that country name and then mount the appropriate national flag on that position. If the place the wrong flag on the wrong panel they will be given feedback encouraging them to try again


    • The weather observation task
      • Once aboard the virtual space laboratory, students will be required to undertake observations of the weather on earth and then report their observations back to earth control in Chinese.
      • Depending on the time of day they arrive at the virtual space laboratory the weather on earth will be different. Students have to include the time of day, the country they observed and the weather conditions they saw in their verbal report.
      • The reports are recorded via computer monitors on board the virtual space laboratory and can be accessed by the teacher via a standard web browser.


  • Adventure /  game based
    • Conduct a spacewalk and repair the virtual space laboratory’s solar panel
      • One of the winged solar panels on the virtual space laboratory has failed to open.
      • Student taikonauts are tasked with donning their spacewalk equipment, exiting the space laboratory, locating the solar panel, navigating their way from the exit point to the solar panel and then repairing it.



These are just a couple of sample tasks that were developed for demonstration purposes. There is potential to develop a range of different language and general knowledge learning tasks throughout the whole launch process and on board the virtual space station. In addition to language learning and practice opportunities, tasks could be developed for other disciplines such as mathematics and science. Indeed, some learning tasks could be based on simulations of real scientific experiments being conducted by the international community on the real Tiangong 1 space laboratory. The possibilities are limitless!

More to come in the near future


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