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China to launch second manned spacecraft to test its space lab

Artist's illustration of China space agency Tiangong 1 space laboratory. Photo: China Manned Space Engineering Office.

BEIJING (PTI): China will launch a second manned space mission this month to test its space lab being built to rival Mir, the international space station being operated by Russia and the US.

The Shenzhou-10 manned spacecraft is scheduled to be launched in the middle of June, a spokesperson for China's manned space programme announced on Monday.

The mission has entered the final phase of preparations, with the modified model of the Long March-2F carrier rocket and spacecraft being transported to the launch site on Monday, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted the spokesperson as saying.

The spacecraft for which the dates are yet to be announced will be launched in mid-June from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China, will carry three astronauts and dock with the Tiangong-1, a target orbiter and space module sent to space in 2011.

China aims to keep its space lab ready by 2020 by the time Mir, being managed by both US and Russian scientists is expected to be scrapped, making it the lone space mission in operation.

Tiangong-1, which hosted the Shenzhou-9 carrying China's first woman astronaut last year is currently orbiting the Earth.

The Shenzhou-10 will dock with the Tiangong-1, where astronauts will conduct space science experiments and offer lessons to students back on Earth via a video feed.

The space module entered the appropriate docking orbit at the end of May and is now running normally, the spokesperson added.

After years of testing, the new mission will mark the first formal application of the manned space transportation system, according to the Chinese space scientists.

The objectives of the new mission include further assessing the performance of the docking system, the combination's capabilities in supporting life and work, and the abilities of astronauts on the job.

The spokesperson said after propellant was injected into the Shenzhou-10, the launch platform carrying the spacecraft and carrier rocket was safely transported out of the assembly and testing plant to the launch tower on Monday morning.

The spokesperson added that the functional examination and the joint tests of the spacecraft, carrier rocket and ground facilities will be conducted at the launch site in the next few days.

Preparations are going smoothly for all eight major systems of the missions.

Astronauts have finished training sessions, including special simulated training on the ground for space experimentation and teaching during the mission, the spokesperson said.


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