China on November 01 successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft for its maiden docking mission, paving the way for its first space station by 2020 to rival Mir, the space lab being run by Russian and U.S. astronauts.
The launch of unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou-8 in the early hours of Tuesday from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest Gobi desert was successful, Commander-in-chief of China’s manned space programme Chang Wanquan announced.
The spacecraft was sent into the designated orbit by Long March-2F rocket.
It is heading for rendezvous with Tiangong-1, or the “Heavenly Palace” that was put into space on September 29 for the country’s first space docking, which was expected to take place in the next two days.
The move, if successful, will pave the way for China to operate a permanent space station around 2020 and make it the third to do so after the U.S. and Russia. This will be the second space station after the Mir space lab launched in 2001 by Russia. Mir is currently managed by Russian and U.S. space programmes.
The docking of the Shenzhou-8 will take place at a height of 343 km above the Earth’s surface. It will return to the Earth after two docking tryouts.
Chinese and German scientists will conduct 17 life science space experiments on the Chinese spacecraft Shenzhou-8, Wu Ping, spokesperson for China’s manned space programme, said.