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China gears up to launch its first space lab


An artistic illustration of China's first space station module Tiangong-1. Photo: China Manned Space Engineering Office.

BEIJING (PTI): China may launch the country’s first space laboratory module at the end of this week with hectic last minute preparations in full swing.

The unmanned Tiangong-1 module was originally scheduled to be launched into low Earth orbit between September 27 and 30.

However, the forecasted arrival of a cold air mass at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has pushed the launch back to September 29 or 30, depending on weather and other factors.

“This is a significant test. We’ve never done such a thing before,” Lu Jinrong, the launch center’s chief engineer, was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

A full ground simulation was conducted Sunday to ensure that the module and its Long March 2F carrier rocket are prepared for the actual launch.

A month ago, a Long March carrier 2C rocket malfunctioned and failed to send an experimental satellite into orbit.

The Tiangong-1 mission was subsequently rescheduled in order to allow engineers to sort out any problems that might occur during the launch.

The Tiangong-1 will stay in orbit for two years. During its mission, it will dock with China’s Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 spacecraft.

Unmanned docking procedures will be essential for China’s eventual goal of establishing a manned space station around 2020.

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