China launches module for future space station

September 29, 2011 6:28:42 AM PDT
China is embarking on the next stage of its manned space flight program with the launch of an experimental module for a future space station.

The box car-sized Tiangong-1 module was shot into space Thursday from the Jiuquan launch center on the edge of the Gobi Desert aboard a Long March 2FT1 rocket.

After moving it into orbit, China plans to launch an unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft to practice docking maneuvers. Two more missions, at least one of them manned, are to meet up with it next year for more practice, with astronauts staying for up to one month. The module, whose name translates as "Heavenly Palace-1," is to stay aloft for two years.

China plans to assemble a three-section space station between 2020 and 2022.