China Makes Final Preparations for Unmanned Spacecraft Launch

Posted September 27th, 2011 at 12:20 pm (UTC-5)
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China says it will launch an experimental space platform later this week, as the growing Asian economic power moves closer to rivaling the United States and Russia with plans for its own manned space station.

The official Xinhua news agency says the unmanned Tiangong 1 laboratory is scheduled to blast off from a Gobi desert site in Inner Mongolia on or around Thursday, ahead of China's National Day celebrations October 1. Xinhua said Tuesday that all preparations were complete except fuel loading.

The report said the platform's first major test will come about eight weeks later, when ground engineers attempt a docking between the 8-ton unit and the unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft, which Beijing plans to launch in the near future.

The blast-off was rescheduled for this week, following a failed launch of another satellite last month.

The United States, Russia and other countries jointly operate the International Space Station, but China is not involved.

Analysts say the Shenzhou spacecraft emerged from Russia's Soyuz technology of the late 1990s. China's first manned space mission was launched in 2003, making a national hero of taikonaut Colonel Yang Liwei.