Tuesday, September 20, 2011

China Advancing in Space Station Abilities

China will launch an experimental craft next week to pave the way for its first space station, an official said on Tuesday.

The launch would bring the growing Asian power closer to matching the United States and Russia with a long-term manned outpost in space.

The Tiangong 1, or "Heavenly Palace," will blast off from a site in the Gobi Desert around Sept. 27-30, adding a high-tech sheen to China's National Day celebrations on Oct. 1, the Xinhua news agency said.

The small, unmanned "space lab" and the Long March rocket that will heave it skyward have been readied on a pad at Jiuquan in northwest Gansu province, Xinhua said, citing an unnamed representative for the country's space program.

It will be the latest show of China's growing prowess in space, and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.

The big test comes weeks after its launch, when the eight-ton craft attempts to join up with an unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft that China plans to launch.

"The main task of the Tiangong 1 flight is to experiment in rendezvous and docking between spacecraft," said the Chinese representative, who added that this would "accumulate experience for developing a space station."

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