China's Tiangong-1 Launch Delayed

China's Tiangong-1 Launch Delayed

China’s Xinhua news agency is reporting that the launch of the Tiangong-1 docking target will be delayed until the cause of a launch failure is determined.

Tiangong-1 (“Heavenly Palace”) is a module to which the unoccupied Shenzhou 8 is intended to dock as part of China’s effort to develop a small space station. The launch was expected as early as this month, though the Chinese have not officially announced a specific launch date. They consistently have said only that it would be launched in the second half of this year.

Tiangong-1 is to be launched on a Long March II-F rocket, but a cousin, the Long March II-C, recently failed to place the SJ-11-04 satellite into orbit. Initially the Chinese said that since they were different launch vehicles, the failure would not affect Tiangong-1. They apparently have reconsidered. Xinhua quotes an unnamed spokesperson as saying “it is not clear yet” whether the malfunction of the Long March II-C could be linked to the II-F.

Coincidentally, the Chinese launch failure occurred on August 18, the same day that a Russian Proton rocket failed to successfully place a communications satellite into the proper orbit. The Russians traced that problem to a programming error and already have lifted the ban on Proton launches. Russia continues to investigate the launch failure of a Soyuz rocket carrying a Progress cargo spacecraft that was to take supplies to the International Space Station. Itar-Tass stated on Monday that the problem was related to a gas generator on the Soyuz launch vehicle’s third stage.

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