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China to launch spacecraft to test orbit docking

(People's Daily Online)

08:19, October 27, 2011

China will launch an unmanned spacecraft in early November to test its ability of docking with an experimental space module, a necessary step to push forward its manned space station plan.

Technicians have completed testing on the assembling of Shenzhou-8 and the rocket after they were delivered to the launch center at Jiuquan on the edge of the Gobi desert in Northwest China’s Gansu Province.

China has been pursuing a decade-long effort to place a manned permanent space station in orbit that will display the country’s scientific and technological strength and prowess.
In space, the Shenzhou-8 is expected to carry out maneuvers to couple with the Tiangong-1 module now in orbit.

The Shenzhou-8 space ship and the modified Long March-2F rocket that will sling it into space were transferred early Wednesday to the launch pad at the Jiuquan space base.

The 8.5-ton, box car-sized Tiangong-1 module launched last month has moved into orbit 350 kilometers above the Earth and is surveying Chinese farmland using special cameras.

It is also conducting experiments involving growing crystals in zero gravity, said the launch center's chief engineer, Lu Jinrong.

Following Shenzhou-8, two more missions, at least one of them manned, are to meet up with the module next year for further practice, with astronauts staying for up to one month.

Plans call for launching two other experimental modules for more tests before the actual station is launched in three sections between 2020 and 2022.

At about 60 tons when completed, the Chinese station will be smaller than the International Space Station, which is expected to continue operating through 2028.

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