China is slated to launch an unmanned spacecraft in November that will dock with the orbiting Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) experimental module.
The upcoming launch of the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft – which will be lofted into space by a modified Long March-2F rocket – was confirmed by China’s official Xinhua News Agency.
Subsequent flights to Tiangong-1 will include the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10, with at least one classified as a manned mission.
Tiangong-1, regarded by Beijing as a precursor to a more expansive space station, is currently in orbit 217 miles (350 kilometers) above the Earth where it is surveying Chinese farmland.
According to Cui Jijun, director of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Tiangong-1 is functioning as “a target spacecraft” for rendezvous and docking experiments.
The module is also expected to serve as “a platform to test long-term unmanned and short-term manned operations,” with technical and medical experiments providing crucial data for future missions.
As TG Daily previously reported, Beijing hopes to establish a permanent space station by 2022, and remains on track to launch another Tiangong craft in 2013, a space laboratory, followed by a third module in 2015.