On-track for China's first space lab by 2016

09:07, March 04, 2011      

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China will launch its first space laboratory before 2016, a senior space technology expert said on Thursday.

"With the technological program ready, the lab's research and development are going smoothly," said Qi Faren, former chief designer of Shenzhou (divine –ship) spaceships.

As the second phase of China's manned space program, the lab - likely to be named Tiangong-2 - will gradually be developed into the core module or experiment module, said Qi.

Qi, a member of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, was speaking before the annual session of the country's top political advisory body opened yesterday.

China is to launch its first unmanned space module, Tiangong-1 - or Heavenly Palace - in the second half of this year, serving as a platform for spacecraft to rendezvous and dock, allowing for the building of the space station. It will dock with the unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft, which will be launched two months after Tiangong-1.

Both Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou VIII will be launched by a modified Long March II-F carrier rocket, said Liang Xiaohong, a senior executive of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, at the annual session of the country's top political advisory body.

Researchers have made nearly 170 modifications to the original Long March II-F model, Liang said. He also said China would launch two other spacecraft in the coming two years, Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X, both of which would dock with Tiangong-1.

Qi predicted that China will have its own space station before 2020.

Meanwhile, Liang said that the world's largest design, production and testing base for rockets is being built in north China's Tianjin City. The first phase of the rocket industrial base in Tianjin's Binhai New Area will be completed this year. Twenty of the 22 plants are already completed.

Liang also said development of China's new generation of carrier rockets, Long March V, are going according to plan and expected to catch up with the US Delta-4H rockets in payload capacity.

These would have a maximum low Earth-orbit payload capacity of 25 tons and high Earth-orbit payload capacity of 14 tons, he said. Liang predicted it could meet China's requirements for up to 50 years.

Looking further ahead, Liang revealed that scientists are studying the feasibility of designing a powerful carrier rocket with a payload of 130 tons for a manned moon landing. He did not provide a timetable for the development.

China launched its first lunar probe in 2007. A second was launched last October. Last year, China conducted 15 space missions.

People's Daily Online / Xinhua


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