Expanding and Improving Launch Facilities
Shenzou-8 spacecraft

A Long March 2F rocket carries the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Oct. 26, 2011. Shenzhou-8 successfully docked with the unmanned space module Tiangong-1 in November 2011.

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China has recently upgraded its three workhorse launch facilities: the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, part of Dongfeng Aerospace City located in the Gobi desert; the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province; and Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province. As of January 2012, these sites have sent up three crewed spacecraft, two lunar probes and numerous satellites. Along the way, China National Space Administration has beefed up each site's capacity for conducting tests and undertaking higher-intensity rocket launches.

The space agency's engineers are building a new space launch site in Hainan, too, which should be ready in 2016 or 2017. Construction of the new facility, which is slated to handle next-generation launch vehicles as they come online, required displacing 6,000 residents, evoking memories of the mass relocations that attended the construction of Three Gorges Dam. That the nation didn't shrink from doing so is another indication that China takes its space program seriously [source: Xinhua].

In the next few sections, we'll take a closer look at what China has launched from these sites and what it plans to send up in the future.