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Backgrounder: Major moments of China's rocket launches

(Xinhua)

08:23, October 28, 2011

BEIJING, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- China will launch a Long March-2F/H rocket early next month, carrying the unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 which will conduct the country's first space docking with Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, a space lab module.

The Long March-2F/H is a heavier and upgraded version of the Long March-2F rocket, and is considered the most reliable and safest carrier in China.

Below are the major stages of rocket development in China.

On Oct. 8, 1956, the Fifth Academy of the National Defense Ministry -- the country's first rocket research institute -- was founded, symbolizing the birth of China's space industry.

On Feb. 19, 1960, China's first T-7 sounding rocket was successfully launched from Nanhui launch site in Shanghai, paving the way for sending satellites into space.

On July 19, 1964, China launched the T-7A-S biological rocket from Guangde county in east China's Anhui province, carrying mice to an altitude of 70 kilometers.

After 1965, having made great progress in various kinds of sounding and solid rockets, China began to set about the development of a series of Long March (Changzheng) launch vehicles, which could meet the various demands for putting satellites into space.

On April 24, 1970, Dong Fang Hong-1 satellite, the country's first man-made earth satellite, was lifted into space from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu province. The satellite was carried by a Long March-1 rocket. The accomplishment made China the fifth country in the world to send a satellite into orbit with its own rocket.

On Nov. 26, 1975, the Long March-2 rocket successfully launched China's first recoverable satellite from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. China became the third country with the capacity to launch recoverable satellites, after the United States and the former USSR.

On May 18, 1980, China launched its first long-distance carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center to the planned area in the Pacific.

In October of 1985, China announced that its Long March rockets had entered the international market, and were available to launch foreign satellites.

On April 7 of 1990, a Long March-3 rocket successfully launched the AsiaSat-1 satellite into space from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province. The satellite was built by America's Hughes Company for Asia Satellite Telecommunications Holdings Limited. It was China's first commercial launch of a foreign satellite.

On July 16, 1990, China launched a Long March-2, a cluster carrier rocket, from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, laying the foundation for manned spacecraft launches. It also sent a Pakistani scientific experimental satellite and a Chinese satellite into their orbits.

On Feb. 8, 1994, China's Long March-3 carrier rocket finished its first flight and successfully sent the Shijian-4 survey satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center to the geostationary transfer orbit (a highly elliptical orbit path).

On Jan. 26, 1995, China's space program suffered a setback when a Long March-2E rocket exploded during take-off from Xichang Launch Center.

On Nov. 20, 1999, a Long March-2F rocket blasted off at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, carrying China's first Shenzhou spacecraft into space, which returned to earth after 14 orbits.

On Jan. 10, 2001, China sent Shenzhou-2, the first formally unmanned spaceship, into space, carried by a Long March-2F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It was followed by the launch of Shenzhou-3 and Shenzhou-4 in 2002.

On Oct. 15, 2003, China conducted its first manned space mission with Shenzhou-5 which was carried into space by a Long March 2F rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

Yang Liwei, then 38, was onboard the spacecraft and returned after 21 hours and 14 trips around the Earth.

On Oct. 12, 2005, a Long March-2F carrier sent Shenzhou-6 into orbit from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China's second spaceflight. Astronauts Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng were aboard.

On Oct. 24, 2007, China launched Chang'e-1, its first lunar probe, with a Long March-3A rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The probe orbited the moon and took high-resolution pictures of the lunar surface.

On Sept. 25, 2008, China used a Long March-2F rocket to lift the spacecraft Shenzhou-7 into space from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Zhai Zhigang successfully completed China's first-eve space walk. China became the third country in the world to conduct extravehicular activity in space, following the Soviet Union and United States.

On Oct. 1, 2010, a Long March-3C carried Chang'e-2, the country's second lunar probe, into space from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. For the very first time, the rocket directly sent the Chang'e-2 satellite into lunar transfer orbit.

On Sept. 29, 2011, China launched its first space lab module Tiangong-1, which was carried by a Long March-2F rocket into space from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It aims to test the first space docking with Shenzhou-8, paving the way for China to operate a permanent space station around 2020, which, if successful, will make it the world's third country to do so.

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