China launches space module
AFP – 8 mins ago
Xinhua, Wang Jianmin - In this photo released by China's Xinhua
News Agency, a Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket loaded with
Tiangong-1 unmanned space lab module blasts off from the launch pad
at the Jiuquan Satellite …more
China took its first step towards building a space station on Thursday when it launched an experimental module ahead of National Day celebrations.
Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace", took off on schedule shortly after 09:15pm (1315 GMT) from the Gobi desert in China's northwest, propelled by a Long March 2F rocket, ahead of China's National Day on October 1.
The unmanned 8.5-tonne module will test various space operations as a preliminary step towards building a space station by 2020.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was at the launch centre for the take-off, while President Hu Jintao watched from a space flight control centre in Beijing, the state Xinhua news agency said.
China sees its ambitious space programme as a symbol of its global stature and state newspapers devoted several pages to the launch, hailing it as a "milestone" for the country.
Tiangong-1, which has a two-year lifespan in space, will receive the unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft later this year in what would be the first Chinese docking in space. If that succeeds, the module will then dock with two other spacecraft -- Shenzhou IX and X -- in 2012, both of which will have at least one astronaut on board.
The technology for docking in space is hard to master because the two vessels, placed in the same orbit and revolving around Earth at some 28,000 kilometres per hour (17,360 mph), must come together progressively to avoid destroying each other.
French researcher Isabelle Sourbes-Verger said that a correctly functioning docking system would put China "in a potential position to one day access the International Space Station (ISS)."
But she cautioned that this was not likely to happen in the next five years. China, which has only been open to the world for some 30 years, is playing catch-up in the space arena.
Just like its first manned spaceflight in 2003, the planned space docking later this year will emulate what the Americans and Russians achieved in the 1960s.
China aims to finish its space station, where astronauts can live autonomously for several months like on the ISS (International Space Station) or the former Russian Mir (和平号), by
Beijing began its manned spaceflight programme in 1990, after it bought Russian technology that enabled it to become the third country to send humans into space, after the former USSR and the United States.
On its national day last year, China launched its second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, and the first Chinese probe destined for Mars is due to be launched by a Russian rocket this autumn.
It is unclear whether China plans to send humans to the moon, particularly after the United States said it would not return there.
But the official China Daily newspaper quoted Wu Ping, a spokeswoman for China's manned space programme, as saying that the Asian nation was doing "concept research and preliminary feasibility studies on manned moon landings."
She added there was currently no set timetable for such a landing.
China's great space station leap
China has successfully launched the first component to build its own space station, indicating that it is closing the gap with the big
space powers such as the US and Russia.
By Peter Ford, Staff writer / September 29, 2011
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket loaded with Tiangong-1 unmanned space lab module blasts off from the launch
pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province.
Xinhua, Wang Jianmin/AP
China launched an experimental space lab into orbit Thursday night, successfully installing the first building block in its planned space station and underscoring its progress in space technology.
The “Tiangong 1,” which means “Heavenly Palace 1,” was lofted into the heavens from a launchpad in the Gobi desert and will now be readied to dock with another unmanned craft next month.
If that docking – and a subsequent manned trip to Tiangong – go well, “we will have laid
solid foundations to build our own space station,” due for construction by 2022, says Jiao Weixin, a space scientist at Peking University.
China would be only the third nation to have mastered space docking technology, after Russia and America. It became the third country to put a man in space by its own efforts in 2003.
Beijing is still, however, many years behind US and other industrialized nations who are partners in the International Space Station, in which China does not participate, says Isabelle Sourbes-Verger, an expert on the Chinese space program at the French National
Center for Scientific Research in Paris.
Six astronauts can live indefinitely on the 400-ton ISS, whereas two Chinese “taikonauts”
will be able to spend only a week or so on the cramped eight ton Tiangong, testing its life support systems, according to Professor Jiao.
“This is just an experiment. There is no race,” says Dr. Sourbes-Verger. “The Chinese are
playing technological catch-up, but this launch is important to them because it shows that they are making up the gap with the big space powers.”
Signalling the importance Beijing attached to the launch, all nine members of the ruling Communist Party Politburo standing committee witnessed the blastoff either at the launchpad or from mission control in Beijing.
China has so far staged a space walk and launched two lunar probes in what Chinese space agency officials have hinted could become a bid to be only the second country to put a man on the moon.
Cut off from space cooperation with western nations for decades due to US opposition, China has built its home-grown space program on the basis of Soviet technology, in contrast to other rising space powers such as India which has relied on technology
It has done so on a shoestring, according to Sourbes-Verger, who estimates that Beijing spends $2.5 billion a year on its civilian and military space programs, compared to Washington’s $32 billion annual budget.
While China scared other nations in 2007 when it became the first nation to shoot down a satellite with a land-based missile, military goals are by no means Beijing’s priority when it comes to space technology, Sourbes-Verger believes.
“Skill acquisition and applications such as telecommunications, earth observation, navigation, and meteorology are what’s essential to the Chinese,” she says, to judge by the way their space programs are designed. And while China sells its home-made satellites to developing countries, it still buys many of the satellites it uses itself from Western manufacturers.
Thursday’s launch, meanwhile, could be the first small step toward a distant goal – to be a
full partner in an international project to send men to Mars. “In the short term we won’t
have the technology to participate,” says Jiao. “But maybe in 30 years….”