China plans to launch unmanned space module next year

March 3rd, 2010 - 4:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, March 3 (IANS) China plans to launch an unmanned space module in 2011. It is expected to complete the country’s first space docking which is regarded as an essential step toward building a space station, an official said Wednesday.
Tiangong-1, or the Heavenly Palace, would be later converted into a manned space lab after experimental dockings with three Shenzhou spacecraft. The spacecraft are expected to be put into space within two years following the module’s launch, said Qi Faren, former chief designer of Shenzhou spaceships.

Xinhua news agency reported that Qi, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), made the remarks on the sidelines of the annual full session of the top political advisory body that opened Wednesday.

Weighing about 8.5 tons, Tiangong-1 is able to perform long-term unattended operations.

When transformed into a manned space lab, Tiangong would provide a “safe room” for

Chinese astronauts to live in and conduct research in zero gravity, Qi said.

Its scheduled docking with unmanned Shenzhou-8 spacecraft would be the country’s first space docking. Scientists on the ground would control the docking between the orbiter and the unmanned spaceship.

Qi said Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10, the two other spaceships to dock with Tiangong-1, would carry two or three astronauts each.

Experts say space docking has been widely recognised as one of the most sophisticated space technologies as it requires precise controlling of two high-speed spacecraft which meet and dock in space.

Qi said other key technologies are replenishment of propellant, air, water and food.

Liang Xiaohong, party chief of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said Tiangong-1 would be launched on a technologically-modified Long March II-F carrier rocket.

Researchers have made close to 170 technological modifications, including 38 major ones, to the original Long March II-F model, Liang said.

An experimental model of the improved rocket has already been assembled, and would be sent to a satellite launch centre for training missions to test its accuracy, reliability and safety capabilities.

In September 2008, China successfully launched its third manned spacecraft Shenzhou-7, following Shenzhou-5 in 2003 and Shenzhou-6 in 2005.

Taikonaut Zhai Zhigang performed the country’s maiden space walk.

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