China's first space module blasts off

China's first space module blasts off

Great start to ambitious project

Tiangong-1, or ‘Heavenly Palace’, took off on schedule shortly after 09:15pm (1315 GMT) from the Gobi desert in China’s northwest, propelled by a Long March 2F rocket, ahead of China’s National Day on October 1.

The unmanned 8.5-tonne module will test a number of space operations as a preliminary step towards building a space station by 2020.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was at the launch centre for the take-off, while President Hu Jintao watched from a space flight control centre in Beijing, the state Xinhua news agency said.

Ten minutes after launching, the Tiangong-1 separated successfully from its carrier rocket at a height of around 200 kilometres before opening its two solar panels, Xinhua said.

China sees its ambitious space programme as a symbol of its global stature and state newspapers devoted several pages to the launch, hailing it as a “milestone” for the country.

Tiangong-1, which has a two-year lifespan in space, will receive the unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft later this year in what would be the first Chinese docking in space.