Wednesday, 21 September 2011

China to Launch Space Station Test Module Next Week





China to Launch Space Station Test Module

by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com Senior Writer

China is developing its first full-fledged space station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace). Early tests of China’s skills at rendezvous and docking, shown in this artist's illustration, are set to begin in 2011.
 China is developing its first full-fledged space station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace). Early tests of China’s skills at rendezvous and docking, shown in this artist's illustration, are set to begin in 2011. CREDIT: China Manned Space Engineering Office View full size image

China will launch a test module for its first space station next week between Sept. 27 and Sept. 30, state media reported today (Sept. 20).

The unmanned module, called Tiangong-1 (which means "Heavenly Palace") will test autonomous docking procedures and other space operations in preparation for China's plan to build a 60-ton space station by the year 2020.

The Chinese Long March 2F rocket set to launch Tiangong-1 has already been rolled out to its launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, according to state-run news service Xinhua. [Photos: China's First Space Station]



The liftoff was delayed last month when a Long March 2C booster, similar to the rocket that will loft Tiangong-1, failed to deliver an experimental unmanned satellite to orbit. However, after an investigation into the accident, China successfully launched a military satellite aboard a related Long March 3B/E rocket on Sunday (Sept. 18), clearing the way for the Tiangong liftoff.

Final tests of the spacecraft and its booster will take place over the next few days, a project spokesperson told Xinhua.

"Every main system is standing by and the final preparations are running smoothly," Xinhua reported.
The 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 is slated to dock with the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft, which will launch at a later date. It will be the first docking between Chinese spacecraft, and will represent a significant step forward in the nation's space capabilities, experts have said.

Medical and engineering experiments will also be carried aboard Tiangong-1. [How China's First Space Station Will Work (Infographic)]

China is only the third country, after the Soviet Union and the United States, to launch a person to orbit. The first Chinese manned mission, Shenzhou 5, launched astronaut Yang Liwei in 2003. Two more manned missions followed, including a flight that featured the nation's first spacewalk in 2008.

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