February 28, 2009
China To Dock Two Spacecrafts By 2011
China plans to dock two unmanned crafts in space by 2011, with the first being launched by the end of 2010, a government spokesman told Xinhua news agency on Saturday.
China intends to send one unmanned craft "“ the 8.5-ton Tiangong I "“ into space by the end of 2010. The craft will dock with the Shenzhou VIII, which is scheduled to launch in 2011, Xinhua reported.
Docking two spacecrafts is a skill needed to run orbiting stations and send vehicles to the moon, according to Reuters.
The Tiangong I module would be designed to later "allow Chinese astronauts to live and conduct scientific research in zero gravity," and it would be "able to perform long-term unattended operation, which will be an essential step toward building a space station," Xinhua said.
In October 2003, China became the third nation to send a man into space. Since then the country has sent two more astronauts on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou VI craft in October 2005 and conducted its third manned space mission in September 2008, marking its first space walk.
China has continued to step up its efforts in space, which include plans to reach the moon. The country hopes to put an unmanned lunar buggy on the surface of the moon by 2012.
Earlier this week, China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry announced it will be open to bidding from domestic schools and institutions to help build the technology, which includes a landing vehicle and moon explorer.
"Our country's lunar exploration research and development project will be opened to all of society, bringing in a competitive mechanism," said the Guangming Daily, which cited an unnamed administration official.
China's first lunar probe, the Chang'e-1, finished its mission in October after orbiting the moon thousands of times without landing.
Last week, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced plans to launch two people into space for seven days in what some see as an effort to step up the space race against China.
"We are planning to put persons in the vehicle and launch them into space for seven days in an orbit of 275 km (172 miles)," said K Radhakrishnan, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center.
"An unmanned flight will be launched in 2013-2014 and manned mission likely to launch by 2014-2015," said Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, which approved India's lunar plans.
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