China launches recoverable science platform into space
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: September 10, 2006
A satellite bearing the largest payload of plant and fungi seeds ever launched by China was flown into space on Sunday for a reported two-week stay in orbit before being sent on a guided return to Earth.
The launch of the Shijian-8 spacecraft occurred early Saturday from the Jiuquan space center in northwest China's Gansu province. The Long March 2C rocket delivered the satellite into an orbit stretching from a low point of 111 miles to a high point of 277 miles, with an inclination of 63 degrees.
Shijian-8 carries at least 2,000 types of seed samples from a variety of species including those grown in normal crops on Earth, as well as fungi. In all, about 474 pounds of seeds are stowed away aboard the satellite, according to the state-owned Xinhua news agency.
Heralded as China's first satellite primarily designed for space breeding, Shijian-8's seed payload will be returned to Earth after about two weeks of flight, the China Daily newspaper reported in July.
Shijian-8 is reportedly based on China's so-called FSW series of recoverable satellites.
After being recovered, the seeds will be used by researchers attempting to improve the quality and yield of terrestrial crops. Chinese officials contend that seeds exposed to space radiation and microgravity contain more vitamins and other crucial minerals.
Seeds have been carried inside Chinese satellites since 1987, and several Shenzhou capsules from the nation's human spaceflight program have also included similar payloads. However, inside Shijian-8 is the largest set of seeds flown in Chinese space history, Xinhua said.
The launch was the second of 2006 for China, and several more missions are planned before the end of the year. The Sinosat 2 broadcasting satellite is scheduled to lift off in October atop a Long March rocket. A weather satellite, ocean studies craft, and possibly more military spacecraft could also be launched this year.