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China ramps up space programme

15 launches planned for 2008

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China will this year launch 15 rockets, deploy 17 satellites and mount its third manned space mission, the country's secretary-general of the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence has announced.

Huang Qiang outlined the plans yesterday, but remained tight-lipped on exact details. State media has already announced that the manned Shenzhou VII mission, involving a space walk, is pencilled for October. Reuters adds that China will colaborate with Russia in 2009 on a Mars exploration gig.

According to Xinhua, Huang described the Shenzhou VII as a "major task", and demanded "full cooperation between all departments involved".

The Communist state is currently on a bit of a roll with its ambitious space programme, having successfully beamed back pictures of the Moon from its Chang'e 1 probe. In 2003, it became only the third country to conduct a domestic manned mission, and reports have suggested it's eyeing the possibility of a manned space station and putting a comrade on the Moon.

It has, however, repeatedly denied its programme has military pretentions. In December last year, president Hu promised his nation's space ambitions were "purely for peaceful purposes". ®

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