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Tue 1 Nov 2011 12:01 PM

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Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking

Long March rocket lifted the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft into an initial orbit 124-miles above Earth

Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking
China has finally launched its unmanned Shenzhou 8 vehicle this week, in a bid to become a major global space power. An upgraded Long March 2F rocket carries the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on October 26, 2011 in Jiuquan, China. (Getty Images)
Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking
The Shenzhou-8 spacecraft has been launched on a space mission to dock with China's first unmanned space module Tiangong-1, which was launched separately in September. (Getty Images)
Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking
This is the first time China has tried to join two space vehicles together, a move which is required of the country if is to complete the build of its first space station by the year 2020. (AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking
The Long March carrier rocket departed from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert at 05:58, Tuesday. Nine minutes into the flight, Shenzhou separated from the rocket. It will take around two days for Shenzhou to get to a position where it can potentially dock the other vehicle.(AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking
The country's first space laboratory module Tiangong-1 lifted off on a rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on September 29. (Getty Images)
Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking
The unmanned Tiangong-1 is scheduled to stay in orbit for two years and dock with China's Shenzhou-8, -9 and -10 spacecraft. (Getty Images)
Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking
China's Long March 2F rocket carrying the Tiangong-1 module, or 'Heavenly Palace', blasted off successfully just over a month ago. Docking with the other vehicles will occur some 340km above the Earth. (AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese rocket blasts off for first space docking
The vehicles will use radar and optical sensors to compute their proximity to each other and guide their final approach and contact. The pair will then spend 12 days circling the globe together before moving apart and attempting a re-docking. Finally, Shenzhou 8 will detach and its return capsule will head back to Earth. (Getty Images: Text: BBC)