Last-minute preparations for spacecraft launch

Updated: 2011-09-26 13:29


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Last-minute preparations for spacecraft launch
The 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 spacecraft and the Long March II-F rocket stand at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Sept 20. [Shu Dong/for China Daily]

JIUQUAN, Gansu - China is making last-minute preparations to launch the country's first space laboratory module at the end of this week at a launch center in northwest China.

The unmanned Tiangong-1 module was originally scheduled to be launched into low Earth orbit between September 27 and 30. However, the forecasted arrival of a cold air mass at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center has pushed the launch back to September 29 or 30, depending on weather and other factors.

"This is a significant test. We've never done such a thing before," said Lu Jinrong, the launch center's chief engineer.

A full ground simulation was conducted on Sunday afternoon to ensure that the module and its Long March 2F carrier rocket are prepared for the actual launch.

Just one month ago, a Long March carrier 2C rocket malfunctioned and failed to send an experimental satellite into orbit. The Tiangong-1 mission was subsequently rescheduled in order to allow engineers to sort out any problems that might occur during the launch.

The Tiangong-1 will stay in orbit for two years. During its mission, it will dock with China's Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 spacecraft. Unmanned docking procedures will be essential for China's eventual goal of establishing a manned space station around 2020.