This is not at all insignificant

Shenzhou – Divine Military Vessel

Now it appears that the first Chinese manned space mission, probably scheduled for this month, might have a significantly military mission. In the past what few specifiics we’ve heard have all indicated that the Shenzhou 5 mission would be a very simple test mission, with little or no scientific expermimentation on board as the spacecraft was checked out.

According to this story, though,

The forward, orbital module of the Shenzhou manned spacecraft was designed to accommodate a variety of mission equipment. The orbital module remains in orbit after the service module and re-entry capsule have returned to earth. This means the mission equipment installed correspond in capability to a large unmanned satellite. Shenzhou’s two different primary payloads, both of them military, were not discussed by Chinese authorities until early 2003.

Shenzhou 1 through 4 flew with an electronic intelligence payload mounted on the nose. As analysed by veteran space-radio expert Sven Grahn, this consisted of two major components. UHF emission direction-finding was accomplished by three earth-pointing television-aerial type antennae deployed on long telescoping booms.

That means that they could include the same equipment onboard the first manned flight.

Given that China had not previously flown a major ELINT satellite, this was an enormous leap in Chinese military surveillance from space. Each orbital module remains in space as long as eight months after the other modules return to earth.

That means the orbital modules of the Shenzhou spacecraft have been scanning the earth 75% of the time, day in and day out, since Shenzhou 2 was launched in January 2001. Data is dumped in ten-minute bursts when the spacecraft pass over Miyun, near Beijing.

So, as they “test” their maneuvering systems, they can get lined up to pass over whatever it is they want to look at and listen to.

We are, of course, decades ahead of them in this arena. But, until recently, we were centuries ahead of them. Soon, we will be years ahead of them.