China is set to launch its fourth and probably the last unmanned spacecraft later this year before it put a manned one in orbit, a ranking aerospace official said in Zhuhai on Sunday.
Hu Hongfu, executive deputy general manager of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said the program for the unmanned spacecraft, known as "Shenzhou IV" (Divine Vessel IV),was progressing smoothly as planned.
Hu, who was in Zhuhai in south China's Guangdong province for the fourth China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, said that China would launch the manned mission as soon as possible and as long as the safety of the astronauts was assured.
The company had been responsible for the development of the rocket carriers and the spacecraft itself for the space program launched in 1992.
Moreover, it has conducted three unmanned test missions from 1999 to 2002.
(Xinhua News Agency November 3, 2002)