China preps Tiangong-1 for launch

China is ready to launch its Tiangong-1 (Heavenly Palace) unmanned space module on Thursday evening after injecting fuel into the Long March-2FT1 carrier rocket.

According to China’s national space administration spokesperson Wu Ping, the Long March-2FT1 is the latest model of the Long March rocket series and features 170 “improvements” – most of which were implemented after the recent failure of the Long March-2C.

The 2FT1 measures 52-meters in length, is capable of carrying an 8.6 ton payload into low Earth orbit and is equipped with modified boosters to facilitate improved fuel volume as well as increased thrust power.

However, China’s Long March rocket series obviously has a long way to go before it can match the sheer lifting capabilities of U.S. and Russian rockets. 

“China’s manned space program aims at building up a space station, so we need a more powerful carrier rocket,” Jing Muchun, chief designer of the Tiangong mission’s carrier rocket system, told Xinhua.

“Research and development on a new, bigger carrier rocket that burns more environmentally-friendly liquid-oxygen-kerosene fuels is in progress.”

Space administration spokesperson Wu Ping expressed similar sentiments. 

“China remains in the initial stage of making breakthroughs in manned space flight technologies compared with the United States and Russia… We believe that international exchanges and cooperation in the field of aerospace engineering should be intensified on the basis of mutual benefit, peaceful use and common development.”

Tiangong-1 is scheduled to be launched between 9:16 p.m. and 9:31 p.m. Thursday. The module will orbit for two years, and is slated to dock with at least three Shenzhou spacecraft during the duration of its mission.