China to Launch Second Unmanned Space Test Flight This Month
China's fledgling space program will launch an unmanned test flight this month, the second in a series of flights expected to lead to a first manned space flight as early as next year, industry sources in Beijing said Thursday.
A spokeswomen for the China Aerospace Science and Technology Consortium, the agency in charge of China's manned space program, told AFP the flight would take place this month, while denying reports it would happen Friday.
"It will certainly not happen Friday, the launch date is a secret, but it will certainly happen this month," she said, while refusing to identify herself.
The launch will take place from China's Jiuquan Space Center in northwest Gansu province with the Shenzhou II, or Divine Vessel II, returning to earth in the desert of Inner Mongolia, other Western space industry sources in Beijing said.
One well-placed Western source said that the launch would take place on January 10.
The first Shenzhou unmanned space capsule carried out a 21-hour, 14 orbit voyage after being launched in November 1999.
The surprise launch signaled an ambitious manned space program that is expected to yield a solely-Chinese built space station as early as 2015, the industry sources said.
A manned space flight could happen as early as next year, following at least three successfully unmanned test flights, and would make China the third country following Russia and the United States to put a man into space.
The General Armament Department of China's People's Liberation Army, which was also playing a leading role in the manned space effort, was also expected to oversee the military applications of manned space flights and an eventual space station, the sources said -- BEIJING (AFP)
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