Unmanned space module to be launched in 2010, await space docking
www.chinaview.cn 2009-02-28 13:18:00   Print

    BEIJING, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- China plans to launch an unmanned space module into orbit as early as the end of 2010.

    It is expected to meet with another unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, which is scheduled to be launched in early 2011. It would be the country's first space docking.

    A spokesman with China's space program said Saturday that scientists on the ground would control the space docking between the orbiter and the unmanned spaceship.

    The module, named Tiangong-1, is designed to provide a "safe room" for Chinese astronauts to live and conduct scientific research in zero gravity.

    Weighing about 8.5 tonnes, Tiangong-1 is able to perform long-term unattended operation, which will be an essential step toward building a space station.

    Xinhua has learned that a prototype of the module is almost completed and scientists have started to upgrade and renovate ground service equipment for the unmanned space module.

    After successfully sending spacecraft Shenzhou-5, piloted by the country's first taikonaut (a Chinese term for astronaut) in 2003, China has sped up its space program. Its goal is to run its own space station.

    Chinese scientists began prototype research the space docking in 2007.

    The priority for this year is to assemble prototypes of Tiangong-1, Shenzhou-8 and their carrier rocket. They also plan to build a new Long March 2F, which was used to propel three astronauts in the Shenzhou-7 mission last year.

    The space program, carried out by the People's Liberation Army's General Armament Department, also aims to finish experiments on coordination of different systems of the Tiangong-1mission this year.

    Space docking technology has been widely recognized as one of the most sophisticated space skills as it requires precise controlling of two high-speed spacecraft which meet and dock in space.

    China has already test launched unmanned space orbiters. Before the Shenzhou-5 mission, in which then Yang Liwei made China the world's third country to master manned spaceflight, four other unmanned experimental spaceships had been tested.

    Paralleling research of the space module, China achieved a major leap in its manned space activity in the third manned mission Shenzhou-7 last year when Zhai Zhigang made the country's first spacewalk.

    To realize the ultimate goal of building a permanent space laboratory that allows astronauts to conduct larger scale experiments, Chinese scientists will encounter further obstacles such as to produce its own reusable spacecraft.

    During China's latest space mission, the chief designer of the spacecraft system Zhang Bainan said China would begin the mass production of its Shenzhou spacecraft starting from the Shenzhou-8mission.

    Zhang said the mass-produced model would serve as a space shuttle between China's space station and the ground, and may also transport astronauts and cargo for other countries.

    The transportation vehicles currently in use between space stations and the ground are mainly space shuttles of the United States and Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

Editor: Du Guodong
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