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China Readies For Next Space Leap

China is making final preparations for the planned launch of a space capsule designed to test systems to be used in a permanent space station.

"Tiangong-1" (Heavenly Palace) was scheduled to take off today 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-ton module is to test various space operations as a preliminary step toward building a space station, where astronauts can live autonomously for several months like on the International Space Station (ISS) or the former Russian "Mir," by 2020.

As part of that goal, "Tiangong-1" will receive the unmanned "Shenzhou VIII "spacecraft later this year in what would be the first Chinese docking in space.

If that succeeds, the module will then dock with two other spacecraft, the "Shenzhou IX" and "Shenzhou X," in 2012, both of which will have at least one astronaut on board.

compiled from agency reports