(AFP) – Nov 7, 2007
BEIJING (AFP) — China is aiming to place a 20-tonne space station into orbit around Earth in 2020, state media reported Wednesday, in the latest indication of Beijing's lofty space ambitions.
China's space ambitions have attracted huge attention, notably since 2003 when it sent a man into space, becoming only the third country to achieve that feat after the United States and the former Soviet Union.
The timetable for China's first-ever space station was given by Long Lehao, one of the leading designers of the Long March 3A rocket which carried a lunar probe into space late last month, the China Daily reported.
Speaking to the paper, Long said the planned space station would be "a small-scale 20-tonne workshop".
The paper said it was the first time a precise date had been given for the station.
However, the China National Space Administration later said there was still no specific timetable for a space station.
"No plan issued by the government so far has said we are going to develop a space station," spokesman Li Guoping told the state-run Xinhua newsagency.
China has previously voiced interest in participating in the International Space Station being jointly built in orbit by the United States, Russia, Japan and a number of European countries.
But the US military and some lawmakers have opposed China's involvement in the station and other space cooperation with Beijing, viewing Beijing's young space programme as a potential threat to the US satellite system.
The China Daily did not explicitly say if the space station would be manned permanently.
However, previous reports outlining China's medium- to long-term plans for space have suggested it would have a permanent crew.
A crucial step in completing the plan will be construction of the powerful Long March 5 rocket, which will be capable of carrying heavier loads than the existing Long March 3, the paper said.
Long's remarks were published as China's first lunar probe, the Chang'e 1, entered into final orbit around the moon, where it will carry out measurements of the lunar surface for at least a year.
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