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China's rare feat in space


Space rendezvous, a remarkable achievement

To launch first module of space station next year


DENVER: China has pulled off a tricky and uncommon feat in space flight, manoeuvring one of its satellites to within about 300 meters of another while they were orbiting Earth, space analysts say.

China is not saying why it conducted the August manoeuvre, but it comes as the nation is ambitiously expanding its space programme, including building a space station and conducting lunar missions. It is expected to launch the first module of its space station next year, followed by a manned spacecraft to dock with it.

Using unclassified tracking data from the U.S. military, space-watchers calculated that China manoeuvred its SJ-12 satellite close to its SJ-06F satellite on about August 19.

The military releases estimates on the paths of about 1,000 active satellites and 20,000 pieces of debris in space to help commercial and civil satellite operators avoid collisions. U.S. military officials confirmed the Chinese satellite rendezvous occurred but released few details, citing security concerns.The rendezvous marks a milestone for China's space skills, said Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation, a Colorado think tank and advocacy group that focuses on the use of space.

Manoeuvring an unmanned orbiting vehicle from a control room on Earth is extremely difficult because of the distance and because data on the location of the vehicle can be off by hundreds of metres, he said. “It's not like driving a car,” said Mr. Weeden. Only a few other countries have shown they can pull it off, including the U.S., Russia and Sweden, said Mr. Weeden. — AP

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