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China's first space dock on launch-pad

(China Daily)

08:08, September 27, 2011

The 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 spacecraft and the Long March II-F rocket stand at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Sept 20. (Shu Dong/for China Daily)

JIUQUAN, Gansu - Last-minute preparations for the launch of the Tiangong-1 spacecraft began at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Monday, meaning the vehicle can soon embark on a mission that will eventually have it dock with a spaceship, according to the center.

That feat, if carried out successfully, will mark the completion of China's first rendezvous and docking mission.

At the launch site on Monday afternoon, crews were putting in place pipes and cables that will be used to inject fuel into the rocket that will carry Tiangong-1 into outer space.

Without complications from the weather or other causes, the Long March II-F rocket will lift off from the launch center on Thursday or Friday, taking the Tiangong-1 with it, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Despite the preparations, space experts said carrying out the plan still comes with many risks. They explained that the spacecraft and much of the other equipment being used is new and has not been tried on an actual mission.

"Tiangong-1 is a brand new spacecraft designed by China and is bigger and heavier than the Shenzhou spaceships China had developed as a means of transporting astronauts from the Earth to space," said Yang Hong, chief designer of Tiangong-1.

In a vertical position, the Tiangong-1 looks like a cigar standing 10.4 meter tall, a height equal to that of a three-story building. It weighs 8.5 tons and has a maximum diameter of 3.35 meters, a dimension shared by its launch vehicle, he said.

In comparison, the Shenzhou spaceship stands shorter, at nearly 9 meters, is slimmer, having a diameter of less than 3 meters, and weighs less.

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