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Backgrounder: China's four space launch centers

(Xinhua)

17:12, October 26, 2011

BEIJING, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) -- China is planning to launch an unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft in early November at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The spacecraft is expected to perform China's first space docking with Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, a space lab module carried into space at the end of September from the same launch center in northwest China's desert area.

Besides the Jiuquan Launch Center, China has three other space launch centers, two of which have been put into use while the third one is still under construction.

The following is a brief introduction of the four launch centers, namely the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, the Xichang Satellite Launch Center and the Wenchang Space Launch Center.

Named after the northwestern city of Jiuquan in Gansu Province, the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center is located in the desert area of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Founded in 1958, the launch center is China's earliest space launch base, where most of the country's space launches and tests have been conducted.

At a mean elevation of 1,000 meters, the Jiuquan Launch Center is mainly used to send experimental and applications satellites to low and medium orbits with large orbital inclination angles.

Over the past 53 years, the launch center has successfully sent into space nearly 50 satellites and seven spacecraft, including 10 milestone launches such as China's first satellite in 1970, first recoverable satellite in 1975, the first unmanned spacecraft in 1999 and the first manned spacecraft in 2003.

In September, China's first space lab module Tiangong-1 was also launched in Jiuquan to await for the docking with spacecraft Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10.

The Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, situated in Kelan county of north China's Shanxi province, was founded in March 1966 and put into operation in 1968.

Hemmed in by mountains in all directions, the Taiyuan Launch Center stands at an elevation of 1,500 meters. With dry weather conditions in the locality, the center is considered as the ideal site for launching solar-synchronous satellites.

In late 1968, the center successfully conducted the full-distance testing of the first-generation medium-range rocket. In 1988 and 1990, the center blasted off China-made meteorological satellites with Long March CZ-4 rockets.

The Xichang Satellite Launch Center is located in Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture of southwest China's Sichuan Province.

At an elevation of about 1,500 meters, the center is designed mainly to launch powerful-thrust rockets and geostationary satellites.

The Xichang center has two launch pads: one for the launch of geostationary communication satellites and meteorological satellites by Long March CZ-3 rockets and the other for the launch of Long March CZ-2 strap-on launch vehicles and the Long March CZ-3 series rockets.

On July 16, 1990, China's first Long March CZ-2 strap-on launch vehicle successfully blasted off from Xichang, sending a Pakistani scientific experimental satellite and a Chinese satellite into their orbits.

While all the above three launch centers are located in scarcely-populated inland areas, China's fourth space launch that is under construction is situated in Wenchang city on the northeast coast of the tropical island province of Hainan.

Construction at the Wenchang Space Launch Center started in September 2009 and the launch center is scheduled to be completed by 2013.

Wenchang Launch Center is at a latitude of 19 degrees north of the equator and will be mainly used for launching synchronous satellites, heavy satellites, space stations and deep space probe satellites.

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