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China Tiangong 1 Readied for Orbit

Visitor stands near the Shenzhou 5 re-entry capsule at an exhibition in Beijing, July 6, 2011.

Beijing says it will launch an experimental space platform later this week as the growing Asian economic power moves closer to rivaling the United States and Russia with plans for its own manned space station.

The official Xinhua news agency says the unmanned Tiangong 1 laboratory is scheduled to blast off from a Gobi desert site in Inner Mongolia some time on or around Thursday, ahead of China's National Day celebrations October 1. Xinhua said all preparations were complete except fueling.

The report said the platform's first major test will come about eight weeks later, when ground engineers attempt a docking between the 8-ton unit and the unmanned Shenzhou spacecraft, which Beijing plans to launch in the near future.

The Tiangong 1 blast-off was rescheduled for this week, following a failed launch of another satellite last month.

The U.S., Russia and other countries jointly operate the International Space Station, but China is not involved.

Analysts say the Shenzhou spacecraft emerged from Russia's Soyuz technology of the late 1990s. China's first manned space mission was launched in 2003, making a national hero of taikonaut Colonel Yang Liwei.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.