Friday, May 06, 2011

China's First Space Station: A New Foothold in Earth Orbit

China's state-run news outlets report that preparations of the country's first space station module, called Tiangong-1, are in full swing for a launch in the second half of this year and will be followed by an unpiloted spacecraft.

The spacecraft twosome, the station module and China's Shenzhou 8 vehicle, will mark the country's first round of orbital rendezvous and docking tests – viewed as a springboard to larger space adventures. A Long March 2F rocket is the booster of choice for the individual launches, according to reports by China's Xinhua news agency.

According to state media reports, the Tiangong-1 space station module is outfitted with a docking port on its front and rear ends. It will tip the scales at roughly 8 1/2 tons and purportedly will have a two-year lifetime in Earth orbit. Next year, China's Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 missions, each carrying astronauts, are expected to link up with the station module, according to current plan.

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