China launched two disastermonitoring satellites Saturday as officials announced the country's nextpiloted space mission could occur before the end of September, state mediareported.
The two remote sensingbirds blasted off at 11:25 p.m. EDT Friday (0325 GMT Saturday). It was latemorning Saturday at the Taiyuan launch site in northern China.
The two-stage Long March 2Crocket released the two satellites in a sun-synchronous orbit shortly afterlaunch.
Expected to last more thanthree years, the satellites are the first disaster monitoring spacecraftorbited by China, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Optical and infraredcameras can provide global coverage every two days, Xinhua reported.
The satellites will be usedto guide recovery efforts after large-scale natural disasters, such as thedeadly Sichuan earthquake that struck China in May.
China relied on commercialimagery from U.S. and European providers to aid early responders in the Sichuanearthquake.
Xinhua also reported Saturday thatShenzhou 7, China'sthird human spaceflight, will launch between Sept. 25 and 30, several weeksearlier than previously announced.
Three Chinese astronautswill launch atop a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan space base innorthwestern China.
One of the crew memberswill leave Shenzhou 7's crew compartment to venture outside in China's firstspacewalk. Six military pilots have been selected for the mission, with threeprime astronauts and three backup crew members, Xinhua reported.
The astronauts' identitieshave not yet been revealed.
Shenzhou 7 will come twoyears after China's mostrecent human spaceflight in October 2005. China became the third nation tolaunch a person into space during the Shenzhou5 mission in 2003.
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