September 30, 2011

China Space Station:Tiangong-1 Experimental Module Launched

China launched an experimental module to lay the groundwork for a future space station on Thursday, underscoring its ambitions to become a major space power over the coming decade.

The box car-sized Tiangong-1 module was shot into space from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert aboard a Long March 2FT1 rocket.

It is to move into an orbit 217 miles (350 kilometers) above the Earth and conduct surveys of Chinese farmland using special cameras, along with experiments involving growing crystals in zero gravity.

China then plans to launch an unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft to practice remote-controlled docking maneuvers with the module, possibly within the next few weeks. Two more missions, at least one of them manned, are to meet up with it next year for further practice, with astronauts staying for up to one month.

The 8.5-ton module, whose name translates as "Heavenly Palace-1," is to stay aloft for two years, after which two other experimental modules are to be launched for additional tests before the actual station is launched in three sections between 2020and 2022.


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