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China to launch unmanned space module this month


BEIJING (PTI): China will launch its first unmanned space module, Tiangong-1, later this month to realise the Communist giant’s quest to build its own space station.

The space module will be launched sometime between September 27 and 30, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The space module and its carrier rocket, Long-March II-F, have been moved to the launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province, said the project’s spokesperson.

In the next few days, scientists will conduct the final tests on all devices, the spokesperson said.

Every main system is standing by and the final preparations are running smoothly, he said.

The 8.5-metric tonne Tiangong-1, or ‘Heavenly Palace 1’, will be sent into space to perform the nation’s first space-docking procedure.

The module represents the first element of China’s ambitious plan to develop a manned space station, which Beijing hopes will be fully operational by 2020.

The Tiangong-1 will dock with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft, which will be sent into space after the Tiangong- 1’s launch, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Besides the space-docking procedure experiment, scientists also plan to test the long-term unmanned operation and the temporarily-manned operation of a space station as well as carry out medical and technical experiments aboard the Tiangong-1.

The launch was rescheduled early this month due to the failed launch of an experimental orbiter.

The Long-March II-F belongs to the same series as the malfunctioned rocket that failed to insert into orbit the experimental SJ-11-04 satellite last month.

China’s planned space station is expected to be made up of the module, two laboratories, a cargo ship and a manned rocket, with a total weight of 60 tonnes.

China became the world’s third country after the United States and Russia to place a man in space independently with its Shenzhou-5 space mission in 2003.

In September 2008, the Shenzhou-7, piloted by three astronauts, carried out China’s first space walk.

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