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China announces launch of Shenzhou-8 successful, prepares for first docking

BEIJING, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- Commander-in-chief of China's manned space program Chang Wanquan announced early Tuesday that the launch of Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft is successful.

The spacecraft was successfully sent into the designated orbit after the blastoff at 5:58 a.m. at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern desert area, carried by an upgraded Long March-2F rocket.

It is heading to rendezvous with the Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace-1" that was put into space on Sept. 29 for the country's first space docking.

The docking, if successful, will pave the way for China to operate a permanent space station around 2020, and make the nation the world's third to do so.

The launch was attended by Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang. It was also observed by senior experts from the European Space Agency and the German Aerospace Center at the launch site.

The docking will happen within two days after the launch of the Shenzhou-8 at a height of 343 km above Earth's surface. The spacecraft will return to Earth after two docking operations.

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