Saturday 17 May 2008

China sets up first space station for spacecraft data relay

China successfully established a space station for the data relay of its space vehicles on Thursday. This was accomplished by settling its first data relay satellite, "Tianlian I", at E. 77 degrees over the equator at 4:25 p.m..

The satellite was launched on April 25 on a Long March-3C carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest Sichuan Province. Since then, the satellite has carried out a series of actions including the unfolding of its solar sail, the ignition of its engine and changing its positioning on four occasions.

The successful positioning has largely increased the coverage of the country's space measuring network, timely transmission of space data and reduced the risk of future space missions. It also improved the efficiency of ground control and its command, and in carrying out problem analysis and space rescue, according to an expert with the Xi'an center.

In the coming days, the center will conduct comprehensive measuring on the satellite. The satellite will be officially handed over to clients after it is confirmed to be operating in a normal and stable manner.

The satellite would not go into operation until the launch of the Shenzhou VII manned space mission, scheduled for the second half of 2008.

The satellite was developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation and aimed to increase the communication time of the Shenzhou VII spaceship with ground control, and to improve the amount of data that could be transferred.

The Yuanwang space tracking ships, along with the more than 10 ground observation stations, can only cover 12 percent of the Shenzhou VII spaceship's space orbit. The "Tianlian I" satellite alone covers 50 percent of the orbit of Shenzhou VII or any other Chinese spacecraft.

With the help of the satellite, scientists can collect more data without delay, and can identify earlier when a malfunction is taking place in a spacecraft.

The launch was the 105th mission of China's Long March series of rockets, and the first mission of the Long March-3C carrier rocket.

The 55-meter carrier rocket with two boosters is capable of launching satellites weighing between 2,600 kilograms to 3,800 kg into space.

Seven Long March-3C carrier rockets are currently in production and will carry "several domestic and foreign satellites" into space.

China has planned 10 space launches this year, including the Shenzhou VII spaceship. It will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu late this year and the astronauts will leave their spacecraft for the first time.

China began its manned space program in 1999 and successfully sent its first astronaut, Yang Liwei, into orbit on the Shenzhou V spacecraft in 2003.

Two years later, Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng completed a new Chinese record with a five-day flight on the Shenzhou VI. All returned safely.

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