Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Long March 2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft launches from China on October 31, 2011 (U.S. Time).

NEXT STOP: TIANGONG-1... At 2:58 PM, Pacific Daylight Time yesterday, an unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft launched onboard a Long March 2F rocket from northwestern China. After it docks with Tiangong-1 tomorrow (U.S. Time), the Shenzhou-8 vehicle will stay attached to the prototype space station for 12 days—after which Shenzhou-8 will undock from the module and conduct another docking maneuver with it before autonomously returning to Earth several days later.

Tiangong-1 is a prototype to a manned space station that China hopes to launch by the end of this decade...around the time the International Space Station is scheduled to be de-orbited no sooner than 2020, after being in low-Earth orbit for 22 years.

A computer simulation showing the Tiangong-1 module and Shenzhou spacecraft docking in low-Earth orbit.
China Manned Space Engineering Office

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