A day after the successful launch of China's longest manned space mission, the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft carrying two astronauts is set to dock with an experimental space lab orbiting the earth through a remote-controlled automatic operation early tomorrow. After the spacecraft successfully docks, the astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong will begin their month-long stay in the space lab, during which they will conduct a series of experiments. "The pair will be just above Chinese territory when the spacecraft has the rendezvous with the lab," Sun Jun, deputy chief engineer of the Beijing Aerospace Control Centre, said. Shenzhou-11, China's sixth manned spacecraft, was successfully sent into space yesterday aboard a Long March-2F Y11 carrier rocket. Tiangong-2 was launched on September 15 and had arrived at its defined orbit, about 393 kilometers above Earth, for its rendezvous with Shenzhou-11. This will be the height at which the future Chinese space station will operate. The space lab was launched as part of China's efforts to set up its own manned space station by 2022, which will make it the only the country to have such a facility in service as the current International Space Station (ISS) retires by 2024. Other objectives of the manned space mission include aerospace medical experiments, space science experiments and in-orbit maintenance with human participation, as well as other activities, Wu Ping, Deputy Director of China's manned space engineering office said. The two astronauts will undertake ultrasound tests during space travel for the first time, cultivate plants in space, and test the three winners of an experimental design competition run in Hong Kong for secondary school students. Several technical alterations have been made to Shenzhou- 11, though its main functions and technical parameters are basically the same as Shenzhou-10, Wu said. Lei Fanpei, chairman of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC), recently said China plans to launch the experimental core module of its space station around 2018 with a Long March-5 heavy load carrier rocket, and the 20-ton combination space station will be sent into orbit around 2022. The space station has a designed life of 10 years in orbit 400 kms above the earth's surface. With this space station, China will become the second country after Russia to have developed a space station. China made a three-step strategy in 1992 for its manned space programme, the large-scale manned space station being the last step.
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