China plans to launch two manned spacecraft in 2012
Beijing: A spokesman for the China Manned Space Engineering Office has said that China plans to launch two manned spacecraft in 2012 to dock with its space module, Tiangong-1, which will itself lift off later in 2011.
The spokesperson said: "The 8.5-ton Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace-1, is slated to blast off on top of a Long March 2F carrier rocket in the second half of this year."
"The space module, which is now undergoing tests, will first be the target of an unmanned docking by the Shenzhou VIII spacecraft, which will be launched after Tiangong-1 later this year, he said.
"The interval between the two launches will be two months," Xinhua news agency quoted Liang Xiaohong, Party chief of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, as saying.
The unmanned rendezvous and docking, which will be attempted by China for the first time involves key technology and skills needed for the construction of a space station, which is something China aspires by 2020.
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