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China to set up deep space monitoring network by 2016

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BEIJING (PTI): China, which plans to launch an unmanned space module this year, is getting ready to set up a deep space monitoring network by 2016 to support its future missions, a top scientist has said.

China's lunar orbiter Chang'e 2, regarded as a test flight for the country's plans to land a rover on the lunar surface in 2013, is currently orbiting the Moon.

The deep space monitoring network will consist of two monitoring stations in China, one each in its northwestern region of Kashgar and northeastern Jiamusi area, and one more in South America, Qian Weiping, chief designer of the Chang'e 2 mission's tracking and control system, told the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Efforts are on to upgrade or build deep space monitoring stations in the three locations by equipping them with large-calibre antennas, Qian said.

He said the upgrading work in Kashgar and Jiamusi will be completed in 2012 to provide monitoring support to China's lunar orbitres, Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 4, while the monitoring station in South America will be created in 2016 to assist in the lunar orbiters' return to Earth.

Earlier reports here had said China would launch its first unmanned space module, Tiangong-1, also known as the "target spacecraft," this year.

Tiangong-1, a spacecraft module equipped with two docking ports to serve as a target for a rendezvous docking operation, is expected to enter into orbit in October 2011.

It will first dock with the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft and then the manned Shenzhou 9 spacecraft. It is expected that China will establish its first permanent manned space station in 2017.

According to Chinese space officials, China's manned space projects have three steps.

The first is the breakthrough of manned technology, represented by Shenzhou 5 and Shenzhou 6, which were launched in 2003 and 2005, respectively.

The second step is to set up a short-term manned space station after completing docking and extra-vehicular activities.

The third step is to build a permanent manned space station for space science experiments.

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