Nov. 1 (Bloomberg) -- China successfully launched the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft earlier today, part of an effort to set up a permanent manned space station by 2020, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The unmanned spacecraft blasted off at 5:58 a.m. local time at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China, Xinhua reported. It is set to dock with the Tiangong-1 or “Heavenly Palace” craft launched in September.
Shenzhou is designed to help China master the technologies of docking in space and test other techniques necessary to run a space station, Xinhua reported, citing Zhou Jianping, the chief designer of China’s manned space system. Today’s launch will be followed up in 2012 with two others, at least one of which will be manned, Xinhua said, citing space program spokesman Wu Ping.
China is moving forward with its space program as the U.S. and European Union face increasing budget constraints. The U.S. ended its three-decade manned space shuttle program this year and now has no manned spaceflight capability.
Shenzhou-8 will conduct life sciences experiments on its mission in conjunction with German scientists, Wu told Xinhua.
China, which made its first successful manned flight in 2003, plans to put a capsule on the moon in 2013 and have the technology for a manned mission in 2020, Xu Shijie, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference said on March 3 in Beijing.
China’s space ambitions are under scrutiny by the U.S. A report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, in a draft report in Washington made public last week, stated that Chinese hackers interfered with U.S. government satellites. Yesterday Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said the report was “untrue” and that the congressional commission had ulterior motives.
China in 2007 blew up one of its own satellites, proving its ability to disrupt global communications networks. The explosion spread thousands of pieces of debris in what the European Space Agency described as “by far the worst breakup event in space history.” The impact of a 10-centimeter fragment of debris on a spacecraft or station “will most likely entail a catastrophic disintegration of the target,” according to the agency’s website.
--Editors: John Brinsley, Patrick Harrington
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