Shenzhou build thread...

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Jul 8, 2019
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Given the absolutely rotten review I saw on a website for the Shenzhou rocket kit, it probably would have made more sense to avoid this kit. I instead looked to Hank Williams for inspiration in the words "she warned me once, she warned me twice, but I don't take no one's advice."


When I first discovered the Shenzhou kit, I instantly wanted to order it without a nanosecond's delay, build it and launch it. I of course had heard of the real Shenzhou flights that began back in 1999 and allowed China in 2003 to become only the third country to launch a person into space using their own space program. I never even thought about looking for a kit for the rocket. Then one random day a serendipitous visit to a rocket seller's site revealed the Shenzhou kit. In a spastic fit of excitement I clicked on the entry and saw "1 Star review." Though I didn't want to, I clicked on it and these words appeared (it's still on the site):

"By far the worst rocket I've ever purchased 1 Star Review

Posted by [name] on 16th Mar 2018

It's tough to be objective with this low quality rocket. What did I expect for 16.99? A lot better than this. Please save your money and do not buy this kit. First of all, the wrap was not put on straight at 'the factory'. The 4 booster tubes were under sized for the cones and nozzle assembly. I bent a tube getting the bottom on one of them. Plus, while aligning the boosters, one of the blue plastic rings broke and now the boosters are not straight. Frustrating. And, to top if off, one of the solar arrays on the orbiter was not in the box. Just poor quality, craftsmanship and product control all around. I do have one nice thing to say about the kit. The capsule is kind of cool. I'll probably trash the rocket and keep the capsule for some project in the future. Please take my advice and do not waste your money."

Luckily, I found 2 additional reviews that had much better things to say about the kit. That made the score 2 to 1. Not great odds, so I proceeded with some caution. One site made this build immensely easier for me, Essence's Model Rocketry Reviews & Resources, which includes 2 Shenzhou reviews dating back to 2008. These saved me from more than one brick wall during the build. After reading them end to end, I ordered the kit with little hesitation.

Exploding with anticipation when the package arrived, my heart sank when I saw the smashed main body tube in the package. It was beyond repair. I sent photos to the vendor and they sent replacements very quickly. I kept the smashed tube as a talisman. Then I got to building.


First off, I will say that the instructions for this kit are lacking, especially for less experienced builders. That made the reviews above invaluable resources.

A good starting place seemed to be the booster rockets that circle the bottom of the rocket. Unfortunately, when testing the fits, I found that only one of the cones fit into only one of the tubes. All of the other booster parts required extensive sanding, but they did gradually come together.


Small black nozzles glued onto each base, but the guide holes for these veered to one side of each base piece, so I decided to glue the bases with the nozzles facing out opposite the side of the tube seams. Without this planning, the nozzles could appear in different positions on each booster, resulting in an erratic and unbalanced look. The nozzles also fit tightly into the bases, but twisting them in helped.


Small semi-clear fins then slide over each booster, with a slight gap behind the fin for the blue brace that holds the boosters together. These gaps also turned out to have greatly varying sizes. The tubes also fit through the braces inconsistently, some extremely tight, some extremely loose. The fins also need to make a perfect equidistant cross when complete. To assure this, I glued each booster into each brace one by one, letting each one dry before setting the next.



The blue braces that hold the boosters together against the main body tube had nubs of sprue that needed cutting and sanding and some of them just looked nasty. Eventually the entire unit came together, but it needed some planning to keep the tube seams out of sight and the fins in line once the glue set.


Fine-pointed glue tips made the whole task much easier.


The instructions hint at all of this, but they leave many things to reasoning, planning and foresight. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it provides an argument for assigning this kit to skill level 3. More detailed instructions would easily make it a skill level 2.

One of the most unique features of this kit is the solid plastic engine mount with the retractable hook. Yes, the hook actually slides in and out of the mount.

IMG_7914.JPG IMG_7915.JPG

Apparently, this makes for a more dramatic launch, but once again the instructions don't give enough information to keep people from potentially gluing the engine hook in place. Nor do they explain anything about this atypical configuration. The 2008 reviews helped me out here once again.

(continued part II)
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The recovery system used a more standard approach. The parachute required some assembly by cutting out and fastening the cords in place with small clear stickers, or "tape dots" as the instructions call them.

IMG_7924.JPG IMG_7927.JPG IMG_7929.JPG

My kit included a shock cord mount and the shock cord appeared long enough so, unlike one of the 2008 reviews, I ended up using the recovery materials in the kit unmodified.

The next problem that I encountered may vary from kit to kit. When I first looked at the kit in its package, I noticed a small bag containing two items taped to the kit's top tab with no explanation. I hadn't seen anything like it before, but I thankfully decided to keep it "just in case."


Inside, the kit contained two standard launch lugs, so I glued them on in the indicated places. Thankfully, as I always do during this step of a build, I set up my launcher and tested the fit of the rocket to the launcher. This time, the rocket's bulging nosecone slid tightly against the launch rod and the lugs caught on the rod joints as I moved the rocket up and down. This made no sense. How would this thing ever launch smoothly? The lugs needed to be higher... then the epiphany came. The little mystery bag actually contained launch lugs with little risers under them. Then it all made sense. I sliced off the standard lugs and replaced them with the lugs with risers. Then the rocket fit on the launcher as it should.


What made this all very confusing was that the kit contained standard lugs and that the diagrams in the instructions show standard launch lugs. Again, the instructions don't mention the special lugs. I am very happy that someone thought to include them, though. Looking at the kit photo from the first 2008 review, it appears to contain only the lugs with risers.

Since the kit does not require a drop of paint, as advertised, the finishing touches included fitting the escape tower into the nose cone, which needed to be sanded pretty extensively to fit and yet another non-standard feature of this kit: the decals. One more time, the instructions give no guidance on how to use the decal sheet. They definitely didn't look like wet transfer decals, so I consulted the 2008 reviews and they told me to place them on the rocket and rub a coin over them to transfer them to a surface. Having never seen these before, after a little analysis, it became clear that each decal had to be removed from the sheet, then the white backing needed to get peeled off from the clear side and the decal placed directly down onto the desired area. Then the rubbing.


To my amazement, they worked, though they were extremely unforgiving. You get one chance to place them correctly. The smaller decals didn't pose too many problems, but the longer red checkered decals for the boosters proved a little aggravating. I have some damage control to perform on two of those (so I may need a little paint after all). I also wonder how much of a beating the decals might take. They look great, but they don't look too robust.

Despite everything, I enjoyed building the Shenzhou and the finished rocket looks great. It's a very unique kit representing an important recent milestone in space travel. I'm looking forward to seeing how the retracting engine hook performs. I also haven't decided whether or not to launch it with the escape tower attached (I haven't glued it on yet). That particular piece looks fragile enough to break even on a good landing. Overall, it was a good and worthy effort and it gave me some experience that I haven't had on previous kits, such as wondering what to do next.


Lastly, including the Shenzhou spacecraft with the kit is an extremely cool little bonus. It can also fly in the nosecone with its solar panels detached.


Hopefully I'll have a flight report before winter sets in. Thanks for reading!
Looks like a fair price for all those cool parts. You should be able to make something from all that? Maybe it should have been not labeled as a "kit"..
Nice job.
No painting or wood filling huh? My kind of rocket.:D
Small suggestion: When taping the shroud line to the chute form a small loop under the tape disc.
I believe that's what the dotted line in the picture of your chute is for.
That will help prevent your line from pulling out.
Or just punch a hole through the disc and tie it on, standard fashion.

PS Just saw your pic of the non toxic blue label modeling cement.
The orange label Testors holds better. Some purists would say that other brands of plastic cement are even better. But Testors is easy to find in most hobby shops and online.
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It's a great little kit with less than stellar instructions, but makes a great little flier. Thanks for the detailed build thread and excellent detailed photos. I built mine 11 years ago and I'd forgotten a few things (like the launch lugs).

I second the idea of leaving the LES tower unglued. Mine only survived two flights before snapping.

Start with B4-4 or B6-4. You can be in for a long walk on a C6-5 even in light winds!