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Boom year for space launches
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A record number of spacecraft will be launched this year, a top scientist revealed yesterday.

Yang Baohua, chief of the China Academy of Space Technology, said the more than 10 on the launch list include the Shenzhou VII spaceship, two environmental satellites, the Fengyun-2 meteorological satellite and a communications satellite for Venezuela.

The country launched an average of eight spacecraft in the past two years.

"China's space technology has entered a new stage. The design and manufacture of satellites take less time, and homemade satellites are more reliable and have a longer lifespan," Yang told a forum.

The academy has designed most of China's satellites, including the Shenzhou spaceships. By last December, the country had designed and manufactured 88 satellites.

The launch of Shenzhou VII is the highlight this year, because one of the three astronauts on board will conduct the country's first spacewalk.

Yang said that it would mark a breakthrough in the technology of extravehicular operation.

Shenzhen VIII, whose launch date has not been decided, will conduct spacecraft rendezvous and docking - key technologies that must be mastered if the country is to launch space laboratories and a space station, he said.

"Usually, other countries conduct 20 to 30 flight experiments to master the two technologies, but China plans to do it in two attempts," he said.

Besides Shenzhou VII, two environmental satellites will also be launched.

The Huanjing-1A and Huanjing-1B, together with a third to be launched in 2009, will form China's first small satellite constellation for disaster monitoring, to enable scientists to conduct all-weather, round-the-clock monitoring and forecast on the environment and disasters.

In another development, Beijing has expressed concern over Washington's plan to shoot down a damaged satellite, and urged the US administration to fulfill its international obligations.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on Sunday that the Chinese government is highly concerned about the situation and urged the US to avoid causing damage to security in outer space and other countries.

"Relevant departments in China are closely watching the situation and working out preventive measures," Liu said.

According to news reports, the US Defense Department is planning to shoot down a damaged spy satellite that is expected to hit the Earth in early March. The satellite, which contains toxic fuel, became defunct shortly after its launch in 2006.

(China Daily February 19, 2008)

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