China to launch 'Heavenly Palace'

Updated: 2011-09-20 12:53


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BEIJING - China will launch a prototype module for a planned space lab next week, Xinhua said on Tuesday, a step that will bring it closer to the United States and Russia as space powers.

The Tiangong 1, or "Heavenly Palace", will blast off from the Gobi Desert Jiuquan launch site in a remote part of the northwestern province of Gansu between Sept. 27 and Sept. 30, just ahead of the Oct. 1 national day holiday.

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The eight-tonne unmanned module, and the rocket that will carry it skyward, have been moved onto the launch pad, the report said, citing a spokesman for the country's space programme. It gave no other details.

While the Tiangong initiative much smaller and more modest than the International Space Station jointly operated by Russia, the United States and other countries, it is the latest sign of China's growing space technology ability.

After Tiangong 1 goes into orbit, China will use it to practice docking and other skills needed to operate a long-term space lab.

China launched its second moon orbiter last year after it became only the third country to send its astronauts walking in space outside their orbiting craft in 2008.

China plans an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a moon rover in 2012, and the retrieval of lunar soil and stone samples around 2017. Scientists have talked about the possibility of sending a man to the moon after 2020.