Roamy here. This past Thursday, the unmanned Tiangong-1 space lab was launched into orbit aboard a Chinese Chang Zheng (Long March) 2FT1 rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert. It was launched into a 198 x 332 km x 42.8 deg orbit and was later boosted to a 336 x 353 km orbit. (Orbit data courtesy of Jonathan’s Space Report) This is a somewhat lower orbit than the International Space Station.
An unmanned Shenzhou capsule will dock with Tiangong-1 later this year, with a manned mission planned for either 2012 or 2013.
You know what really cheeses my grits on this? Not just that NASA’s Space Shuttle is retired, not just that the Russians are grounded until they figure out what went wrong with the last Progress launch, not just that the Chinese played an animation of their rocket launch with “America the Beautiful” for background music. It’s that there was a press release a year ago saying they would launch this year, and they did. No political infighting, no squabbles between centers or agencies, no program cancellations, no interminable launch delays. (grumpy Roamy)