By Sanjeev Kulkarni
Econintersect: China launched an unmanned space capsule the size of a boxcar into orbit Thursday, September 29, 2011. According to USA Today the module, named Tiangong-1, was shot into space from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northwest China aboard a Long March 2FT1 rocket. Tiangong translates to “Heavenly Palace.”
The initial orbit will be at 350 km (217 miles) but will later descend to 343 km. In two months an unmanned spaceship will be launched to attempt a remote controlled rendezvous and docking with the space capsule, according to China Daily.
Click on picture for larger image of the launch.Next year China plans two more missions in 2012, at least one of which will be manned, and Chinese astronauts will attempt to board Tiangong. Reports before the launch indicated that there might be a fourth docking experiment, unmanned, before the end of this year. That was not mentioned in the post-launch reports.
The first unmanned docking maneuver will keep the visiting rocket and Tiangong docked for twelve days before decoupling for the rocket to return to earth. Details have not been given about what will transpire on the future launches. China is planning to have a fully manned permanent space station by 2020.
According to Fu Song, a professor at the School of Aerospace in Tsinghua University Fu Song, as quoted in The Guardian, says “The US is still ahead. They sent a man to the moon 40 years ago,”
As GEI News reported in July, the U.S. government has concluded its space station programs, leaving the field to governments in Europe, Russia, China and India. U.S. initiatives have shifted to private enterprise.