China plans space station as probe reaches moon

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BEIJING, Nov 7 (Reuters) China, only the third country to put a man in space aboard its own rocket, expects to launch a space station by 2020, state media said today, the day its first lunar probe reached the moon.

The space station, the world's second, would be a ''small-scale 20-tonne space workshop'', the China Daily quoted Long Lehao, leading designer of Long March 3A, the launch vehicle for the lunar probe, as saying.

''It is the first time a timetable has been made public for the building of the first space station, the third and final step of the country's current manned space programme,'' Long told China Daily.

Chang'e 1, China's first lunar probe, entered its working orbit on Wednesday after a two-week journey to the moon, Xinhua news agency said.

The orbit is the probe's final destination, where it is programmed to carry out scientific exploration work and stay on the job for at least a year.

Long said he was optimistic about the space station plan because China has made progress developing a new family of rocket launchers.

The world's only operational space station is the 00-tonne International Space Station, a joint work of 16 nations including the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Brazil and 11 countries from the European Space Agency.

In 2003, China became the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket.

In October 2005, it sent two men into orbit, plans a space walk by 2008 and hopes to put a man on the moon within 15 years.

China's space plans have won praise but also face scrutiny.

Fears of a potential space arms race with the United States and other powers have mounted since it blew up one of its own weather satellites using a ground-based missile in January.

REUTERS RC RN1009

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