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China launches major space vehicle

By Park Sae-jin Posted : November 2, 2011, 12:49 Updated : November 2, 2011, 12:49
China has taken the next step in its quest to become a major space power with the launch of the unmanned Shenzhou 8 vehicle. The spacecraft rode a Long March 2F rocket into orbit where it will attempt to rendezvous and dock with the Tiangong-1 lab, launched in September.

It would be the first time China has joined two space vehicles together. The capability is required if the country is to carry through its plan to build a space station by about 2020. The Long March carrier rocket lifted away from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert. TV cameras relayed the ascent to orbit.

China is investing billions of dollars in its space program. It has a strong space science effort under way, with two orbiting satellites having already been launched to the Moon and a third mission expected to put a rover on the lunar surface.

Chinese astronauts - yuhangyuans - are expected to live aboard the conjoined vehicles for up to two weeks. There is speculation in the Chinese media that one of these missions could also include the country‘s first female yuhangyuan.

The country is also deploying its own satellite-navigation system known as BeiDou-Compass. Bigger rockets are coming, too. The Long March 5 will be capable of putting more than 20 tons in a low-Earth orbit. This lifting muscle, again, will be necessary for the construction of a space station.

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