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Jiuquan, China (XNA) Sep 27, 2011
Engineers are conducting the final preparations before launching China's first space laboratory module at the end of this week at a launch center in northwest China.
The unmanned Tiangong-1 module was originally scheduled to be launched into low Earth orbit between Sept. 27 and 30. However, a weather forecast showing the arrival of a cold air mass at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center forced the launch to be rescheduled for Sept. 29 or 30, depending on weather and other factors.
"This is a significant test. We've never done such a thing before," said Lu Jinrong, the launch center's chief engineer.
A full ground simulation was conducted on Sunday afternoon to ensure that the module and its Long March 2F carrier rocket are prepared for the actual launch.
Cui Jijun, commander-in-chief of the launch site system and director of Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, told Xinhua that they developed a new target spacecraft for the mission and made more than 170 technical improvements to the Long March 2F, China's manned orbital carrier rocket.
Engineers have also made more than 100 updates at the launch site in order to make it compatible with the Tiangong-1, Cui added.
The module will conduct docking experiments after entering orbit, which is the first step in China's space station program.
Cui said the launch site has an updated computer center and command monitoring system and increased ability to adapt to changes in mission conditions, as well as the resources to handle both the launch and command duties. An integrated simulation training system for space launching has also been developed for the docking mission.
The mission comes just one month after the Long March 2C rocket malfunctioned and failed to send an experimental satellite into orbit. The Tiangong-1 mission was subsequently rescheduled in order to allow engineers to sort out any problems that might occur during the launch.
Cui said that engineers conducted a two-month comprehensive technical check on equipment at the launch site from March to May. The safety and reliability of all the instruments have been significantly improved.
"[The launch site] has the full conditions to conduct the Tiangong-1 mission," said Cui.
The Tiangong-1 will remain in orbit for two years. During its mission, it will dock with China's Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 spacecrafts.
Unmanned docking procedures will be an essential step toward China achieving its goal of establishing a manned space station around 2020.
Source: Xinhua News Agency
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