New carrier rocket proven most precise ever

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A top commander for the Shenzhou-8 launch said here Tuesday morning that the new carrier rocket was proven the most precise and reliable tool for sending Chinese spacecraft into orbit.

Liu Yu, lead officer who oversees the carrier rocket system under the manned space program, said he would have no more satisfaction over the performance of the upgraded Long March-2F rocket.

"This is a perfect job, for real," said Liu, referring to the rocket's blastoff and delivery of Shenzhou-8, after an initial flight of 9 minutes and 43 seconds, into the designated orbit, with 330 km highest above ground.

Shenzhou-8 is expected to dock, after a two-day flight, with the country's first experimental space lab module Tiangong-1.

The latest launch on Tuesday is the ninth mission of the Long March-2F rocket, which also carried Tiangong-1 into space on Sept. 29.

"We've done more than 100 technological upgrades and modifications to previous versions of the Long March rocket family," said Liu, citing that one key improvement is to employ the iterative guidance technology, which significantly helps the new rocket to adapt itself to precisely hit the target.

After the successful entry into the orbit, Shenzhou-8 has to go through a series of swing-bys to catch up with the target orbiter Tiangong-1, which is some 10,000 km away and orbiting the Earth at a maximum height of 343 km.

If the docking and the spacecraft return are both smooth, China might send vehicles Shenzhou-9 and -10 for another two docking tryouts in 2012, in a bid to hone its space knowhow and pave way for building a China-made permanent manned space station in, possibly, 2020.

At least one of the two missions in 2012 will carry astronauts, likely including female, into space to fulfill manual docking.

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