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Thursday, June 10, 1999 Published at 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK


China's secret manned spacecraft revealed

Never seen before - China's new rocket

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Pictures of the secret capsule that China will use to put a man into space have found their way out of China.

It is a serious lapse of the high security surrounding China's plans to put a man into space.

[ image: The capsule is where the astronauts will travel]
The capsule is where the astronauts will travel
They are said to have been taken last year by a Mongolian construction company that helped to build new launch facilities at China's Jiuquan launch complex.

They show the top-secret CZ-2F rocket. This is a version of China's successful Long March rocket that has been upgraded to be capable of launching astronauts.

Space capsule

Arousing most interest among experts is the capsule perched on top of the rocket.

It includes an escape tower housing small rockets that fire to separate the capsule from the rocket in case of an emergency during countdown.

[ image: China's first vertical assembly shed]
China's first vertical assembly shed
Such a tower is not normally used in unmanned spacecraft.

The capsule itself appears to draw heavily on the highly successful Russian Soyuz capsule, a design that is 35 years old.

Test in October

China has made announcements that suggest that it has astronauts in training for a future manned mission, possibly in 2001.

The first unmanned test of the new capsule is expected in October.

In the pictures the CZ-2F rocket is seen being wheeled out of a large assembly building.

Also clearly visible is a mobile launch platform to transport the assembled rocket from the assembly building to the launch pad. This is the first time that China has employed this method of launch.

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