The rocket carrying China’s first space laboratory, Tiangong-1, was launched from the north of the country. The rocket "Long March" was successfully launched from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert at 21:16 local time (17:16 GMT). The rocket lifted station over the Pacific Ocean to its target orbit at an altitude of 350 km above the Earth. For the first time, the 10.5-meter-long cylindrical module will be unmanned, but the astronauts will visit it next year. Translated from the Chinese, Tiangong means "heavenly palace".
It is planned that the first time the module will operate in stand-alone mode. A few weeks later, China will launch another unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-8, which is docked to its predecessor.
If the mission Shenchshou-8 is successful, it is planned to launch two manned spacecraft (Shenzhou 9 and 10) in 2012. Groups of 2-3 astronauts will alternate on board the combined station every two weeks.
Tiangong project is the second step of the plan, which the Beijing authorities called three-step strategy.
The final step will be the creation of a space station.
The future station will weigh 60 tons, which is significantly less than the 400-ton ISS, which is run by the United States, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan, but its very existence, however, is a remarkable achievement.
China is investing billions of dollars in its space program. Already accumulated significant scientific potential, and two orbiting satellites are launched to the Moon. The third mission will deliver to the surface of the moon rover. In addition, the Asian country develops its satellite navigation system, known as Beidou, or Compass.
"They have a lot of ideas and they are serious about their implementation", - said John Zarnetski, a professor who was reading a series of lectures at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
"Vital feeling of great optimism. They are not so much interested in science as the development of new technologies. Although the money is there, but the number is not unlimited. They methodically, step by step, move to the implementation of its goals," - he said.