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China launches program to catch up with space powers

China has stepped up in its space exploration program. The unmanned Tiangong 1 laboratory, dubbed a ‘heavenly palace’, is to be launched to test the water for Beijing to boost its presence in the skies.

The Chinese hope the station will become a foundation for a re-usable destination in space for China, explained Tariq Malik, editor of space.com.“This is a significant test. We've never done such a thing before,” said Lu Jinrong, the launch center's chief engineer, as cited by Xinhua news agency on Thursday. China’s attempt to join the space explorers’ club has nothing to do with the 60s-like arms race the USSR and the US were involved in, believes Tariq Malik. But it is certainly a visible example of the technological progress of the Asian country, which can only boost its prestige. “What else can demonstrate your expertise besides one of the hardest things people can do – flying humans into space?” Malik stressed. The unmanned Tiangong-1 module was originally scheduled to be launched into low Earth orbit between September 27 and 30, Xinhua reported. The anticipated arrival of a cold air mass at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center pushed the launch back to September 29. The Tiangong-1 will stay in orbit for two years. During its mission, it will dock with China's Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 spacecraft, which are scheduled to be launched later if the first part of the lab turns out to be a success. Unmanned docking procedures will be essential for China's eventual goal of establishing a manned space station around 2020.China originally planned to launch the space lab module earlier, but just one month ago, a Long March 2C rocket, which is similar to Tiangong 1's Long March 2F booster, malfunctioned shortly after lift-off and failed to reach orbit. Chinese officials temporarily halted plans for Tiangong 1 as they investigated the accident, which resulted in the loss of an experimental satellite.

The editor of 'Cosmonaut News’ magazine, Igor Lisov, believes China's space exploration program is driven by a desire to catch up with other countries.“For now, they are only at the point we reached 30 years ago,” he notes.“One of the reasons the Chinese are developing their own space program is that they weren’t invited to join the ISS. They were even refused permission just to visit the station, though Russia and Europe had nothing against it,” Lisov explains.“China is a very different civilization,” Lisov stresses saying that it will “ultimately go its own separate way.”“This launch is the first step to their own module-based space station which they plan to start in 2018,” he notes.