Image: Tiangong and Shenzhou
People's Daily
China's Tiangong 1 mini-space station, shown at left in this artist's conception, is designed as an orbital way station for visiting Shenzhou spacecraft like the one shown at right.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/17/2010 12:53:08 PM ET 2010-08-17T16:53:08

China has finished the first module of a planned space station and is testing its electronics and other systems before launching it into orbit next year.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported on the module's schedule Tuesday. It also said changes were being made on a two-stage Long March 2F rocket that will carry the 8.5-ton Tiangong 1 module into a set orbit.

The Shenzhou 8 spacecraft will dock with it in the second half of 2011, with the Shenzhou 9 and 10 to follow in 2012, Xinhua said.

That spacecraft is part of China's human spaceflight program, but no dates were given on when the space station would be finished or manned.

Observers had expected Shenzhou 8 to be an unpiloted mission. Xinhua was unclear on that point, however: It quoted a military source as saying that Chinese astronauts, including two women, were undergoing training for the space docking.

China also plans to launch a second lunar probe in October and a robotic moon landing in 2012. A lunar mission, possibly involving Chinese astronauts, has also been proposed for 2017.

China launched its first manned flight in 2003, joining Russia and the United States as the only countries to launch humans into orbit.

However, habitual secrecy and military links have inhibited cooperation with other nations' space programs — including on the International Space Station.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and msnbc.com.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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