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China space station programme begins with launch of unmanned lab

It seem the Chinese are setting up a rival to the International space station and have now successfully launched the first unmanned module.

Given that competition from the earlier space race encouraged many valuable projects, I find this very interesting.

The unmanned Tiangong-1 laboratory, which will be launched into the skies above the Gobi desert, is a stepping stone towards a bigger, fully-fledged orbiting platform that China expects to be cheaper than the US and European-backed International Space Station.

The 10.5m-long cylinder will ride around 220 miles (350km) into space on board a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan satellite launch centre and remain in orbit for two years.

It will be used by Chinese scientists and astronauts to practice the rendezvous and docking techniques needed to construct bigger structures in space. The first trial will come later this year, with the launch of another vessel, Shenzhou 8, which will attempt to link up with the lab.

There is also a simulated animation video of the launch and the docking of a capsule on the link below.



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