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Launch delays "will not affect Shenzhou"

(Xinhua)

13:52, September 28, 2011

BEIJING, Sept. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- The unmanned Shenzhou VIII, part of China's first spacecraft rendezvous and docking mission, will be launched in early November.

Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the program, said on Tuesday the launch has not been affected by the postponed lift-off of the Tiangong-1 space module.

Tiangong-1 was to enter a low orbit around Earth at the end of August before being met by Shenzhou VIII. However, the departure was pushed back after a satellite failure on Aug 18.

Out of safety concerns, Niu said mission commanders ordered a halt to testing at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Tiangong-1 and its carrier rocket, Long March II-F T1.

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, which designed and made the rocket carrier that failed to launch, formed an expert panel to investigate and made modifications.

A successful launch of a communication satellite on Sept 19 using the Long March II-C showed the measures worked, Niu said, adding: "We now have confidence in the launch of Tiangong-1."

The module is a "simplified" space lab that will not only be a docking target, but will also work as a space experimental platform. It will be unmanned for most of its two years of use, although astronauts will spend time onboard for short periods.

After Shenzhou VIII, the country will launch Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X next year to rendezvous and dock with Tiangong-1.

Niu confirmed Shenzhou X will be manned. Tiangong-1 can accommodate two to three astronauts.

"Whether Shenzhou IX will be manned is up to the results of the first rendezvous and docking mission," he said.

The rocket carrier with Tiangong-1 atop stands 52 meters tall, with a takeoff weight of 493 tons.

Tiangong-1 was scheduled for launch in between Sept 27 and 30, but due to weather forecasts that predicted a cold air mass would move into the area of Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, it is believed that conditions on Thursday and Friday will be suitable for takeoff.

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