A Chinese Long March rocket has successfully launched the Shenzhou 8 unmanned spacecraft into orbit in the latest stage of the country's plan to build a permanent space station by the end of the decade.
REUTERS - China launched an unmanned spacecraft on Tuesday ahead of a docking exercise that will be a key test of the rising power’s plans to secure a long-term manned foothold in space.
A Long March rocket blasted off from northwest China before dawn, lofting the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft into an initial orbit 200 km (124 miles) above Earth, a live broadcast on Chinese television showed.
Within two days, the Shenzhou 8 will join the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module about 340 km above Earth. The 10.5 metre-long unmanned Tiangong, launched on Sept. 29, is part of China’s exploratory preparations for a space lab.
Rendezvous and docking exercises between the two vessels will be an important hurdle in China’s efforts to conquer the technological and logistical skills needed to run a full space lab that can house astronauts for long stretches.
“Mastering the technology of rendezvous and docking will lay a firm foundation for China to build a space station,” Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of China’s Manned Space Engineering Project, told the official Xinhua news agency.
“Once we have mastered this technology, we will possess the basic technology and capacity to build a space station, and this will open up possibilities for even larger activities in space,” Zhou said in the interview published on Monday.
Date created : 2011-11-01