China to Launch Next Manned Space Mission in Summer

Launch of Shenzhou 9 on June 16, 2012.
A Chinese Long March 2F rocket launches on the Shenzhou 9 mission, China's first manned space docking flight and first flight of a female astronaut, on June 16, 2012 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. (Image credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office)

China announced Thursday (Feb. 28) that it will send three astronauts to space this summer on a docking mission to its orbiting lab, according to news reports.

Carrying three Chinese astronauts the Shenzhou 10 capsule will launch into space atop a Long March-2F rocket sometime between June and August, the Xinhua news agency reported. Once in orbit, the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft will link up with China's space station prototype, the Tiangong 1 laboratory module.

The new space mission will mark China's second manned docking of two spacecraft in orbit, and the fifth Chinese manned spaceflight. The country's space program achieved its first manned orbital docking 2012, when the three-person crew of Shenzhou 9 linked up with Tiangong 1.

China is the third country after Russia and the United States to achieve human spaceflight. The country's first human spaceflight launched in 2003 during the Shenzhou 5 mission that launched Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei into space.

During the upcoming Shenzhou 10 mission, China plans more tests of its spacecraft docking system, as well as the ability of Shenzhou 10 astronauts to adapt to the space environment, Xinhua reported. Officials with China's space agency said general assembly of the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft is complete, and the capsule is currently being tested and the astronauts are undergoing training.

Tiangong 1, which means "Heavenly Palace" in Chinese, launched in September 2011 and was followed by another unmanned vehicle, Shenzhou 8,  in November of that same year during a successful docking test flight.

China plans to replace Tiangong 1 with a larger manned space station by 2020. Eventually, China aims to land people on the moon, officials with the country's space program have said.

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