Tuesday China successfully launched Shenzhou-8 spacecraft that will attempt the first unmanned rendezvous with the test module “Tiangong-1” which is already in orbit. The docking will be a crucial step towards building a space station by 2020.
The docking must be held within two days after the launch of Shenzhou VIII at an altitude of 343 km above the surface of the Earth.
The Shenzhou VIII was launched at 5:58 local time (9:58 p.m. GMT Monday) in the Gobi Desert (northwest China) by a Long March 2F rocket. The spacecraft separated from its launch rocket at the height of 200 km above the Earth.
Shenzhou VIII will then come together to test module Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace), launched on September 29, the two vessels will be placed on the same orbit and operating at approximately 28,000 km/h around the Earth.
Control of in-space is a crucial step in the conquest of space, crossed by the Russians and Americans in the 1960s.
It will allow China to conduct a space exploration on a larger scale, said Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of the spaceflight program.
To ensure the success of the mission, considerable changes were made to the vessel from previous Shenzhou modules, said a spokesman for the manned flight program, Wu Ping.
Shenzhou VIII will record images and report parameters to be used for manned space rendezvous.
The docking will be conducted under the program providing China a space station within a decade. A crew can live independently for several months, as the old Russian space station Mir and the International Space Station (ISS).
If the Shenzhou VIII is successful, next year China will launch two other ships to join Tiangong-1, Shenzhou IX and Shenzhou X, one of which is inhabited.
Two women are among the astronauts in training for this mission. If they are chosen, they will be the first Chinese to be sent by China to space station.
On Tuesday, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang attended the launch from the base of Jiuquan (northwest), in the Gobi Desert, which was also attended by officials from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the German space agency DLR.
Shenzhou VIII embarked 17 experiments in the field of life sciences and microgravity research conducted by Chinese and German.
For the first time that experiments in these areas are carried out in international cooperation in the framework of China’s manned space flight.
China conducted its first manned space flight in 2003, becoming the third country to send men into space after the Soviet Union and the United States.