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Monday, 3 July, 2000, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Taikonauts 'ready for 2001'
Paper AP
Shenzhou-1 was big news in China
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

China is aiming to launch an astronaut or "taikonaut" into space next year, according to a report released by the United States Department of Defense.

It would make China only the third nation, after Russia and the US, to put a human being in orbit using its own rockets.

China put its first satellite in space in 1970 and five years later retrieved a recoverable satellite, a key step toward achieving manned space flight.

But it was only last November that it launched Shenzhou-1, an unmanned version of the spacecraft that is expected eventually to carry the taikonauts into space.

 BBC Archive: Shenzhou orbited the Earth 14 times

Reports coming from Chinese sources say that Shenzhou-2 is being readied for launch later this summer.

Shenzhou-1 AP
The capsule was bigger than western experts had expected
The second Shenzhou craft, which some experts believe will be the final unmanned test, is reported to have many improvements on the first version.

When the first Shenzhou was launched last year, experts were surprised by its size. While it was obviously based on the Russian Soyuz design, it was large enough to be the basis for a three or four-man crew.

The US report says "while one of the strongest motivations for this programme appears to be political prestige, China's manned space programme could contribute to improved military space systems in the 2010-2020 time frame".

The Pentagon report also says that China may have acquired high-energy laser equipment that could be used in the development of ground-based weapons.

"Given China's current level of interest in laser technology, Beijing probably could develop a weapon that could destroy satellites in the future," it says.

China has extensive space-related co-operation programmes with many countries. Although most of these projects are described as scientific or civilian in nature, "militarily significant technology transfer nonetheless occurs in many of them," the report adds.

China and Russia recently ended a two-day discussion meeting in Beijing on bilateral space and aviation co-operation.

China has also tested a new liquid oxygen/kerosene-fuelled rocket engine. The tests were carried out at the Fengzhou test centre and are said to represent a significant advance in China's rocket engine development programme, paving the way for more powerful rockets.

Capsule AP
The report says national prestige is a big motivation

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22 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
China joins space club
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