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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 14:35 GMT
China space shot set for Autumn
Launch of Shenzhou V, AP
China successfully launched Shenzhou V into space in 2003
China's second manned space mission - called Shenzhou VI - could launch as early as September, the country's space agency chief has confirmed.

This time, authorities will launch two astronauts into space and they will orbit the Earth for five days.

Sun Laiyan, who heads the China National Space Administration, also said the country expected to expand relations with the US over space.

China's first manned mission, Shenzhou V, launched into space in October 2003.

"If the flight is successful, China's space programme will proceed to space walks and spaceship docking, with the earliest space walks scheduled for 2007," said Mr Laiyan.

"There are more demanding requirements to ensure the reliability of the capsule and safety of two astronauts compared with Yang's flight - for example in life-support systems."

'New and improved'

Shenzhou VI will be launched into orbit aboard a Long March 2F rocket. It will consist of three modules for launch, orbit and re-entry.

Mr Laiyan added that astronauts will be able to move from the spaceship's re-entry module to live and do scientific tests in the craft's orbital module.

The spacecraft will not hold much more weight on the second launch than it did on the first mission, despite having to carry a second astronaut and fly for extra days.

Shenzhou V flew with a single astronaut: a fighter pilot called Yang Liwei. His mission lasted just over 21 hours.

Asked if Yang Liwei would be part of the second mission, Mr Laiyan said no decision had yet been made about the crew's make-up.

But China has said it will be scouting its high schools to find candidates to be the country's first woman in space.

The Chinese space agency chief said he was looking forward to meeting his US counterpart this year when the US space agency (Nasa) administrator makes a trip to China.

Mr Laiyan met with outgoing Nasa chief, Sean O'Keefe, in Washington DC in early December, and he said he believed the talks paved the way to further bilateral relations.

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