The country's first satellite specially designed for seed breeding in space will be launched into orbit in early September, it was announced over the weekend.
The satellite will be in orbit for two weeks before returning to Earth, space officials said at a conference in Beijing on Saturday.
Shijian-8 is expected to carry at least 2,000 varieties of plant seeds in nine categories, including grains, cash crops and forage plants, as well as seeds of fungi and molecular biomaterials that have been sequenced.
Sun Laiyan, chief of the China National Space Administration, said the "seed satellite" will enable scientists to try and cultivate high-yield and high-quality plant varieties.
Exposed to special environment such as cosmic radiation and micro-gravity, some seeds will mutate to such an extent that they may produce much higher yield and improved quality, said Sun.
Space experts said 40 per cent of mutated space seeds can be used in space breeding experiments.
Since 1987, nine Chinese satellites and several of China's six Shenzhou spacecraft have carried seeds for experiments and a number of new species of plant seeds have been bred in space, but never before has the country launched a satellite exclusively for seed breeding.
By last October, China had approved large-scale plantation of 43 species of space seeds.
Space seed breeding centres have been established in regions such as Beijing, Shanghai and Heilongjiang Province, according to the Chinese Society of Astronautics.
Liu Luxiang, director of the Centre for Space Breeding under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said that between 2001 and 2004, space-bred rice and wheat varieties developed by his centre had been planted in about 566,600 hectares, producing an additional 340,000 tons of grain.
Experiments have shown that the vitamin content of vegetables grown from space seeds is 281.5 per cent of that of ordinary vegetables; and microelements of ferrum, zinc and carotene are also higher than normal.
The planting of space tomatoes and green peppers in Southwest China's Sichuan Province, which started in 1999, has raised average yield by 10 to 20 per cent, with the fruits bigger and of better quality, according to earlier newspaper reports.
The Shijian-8 recoverable satellite will blast off aboard a Long March 2C rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in Northwest China's Gansu Province.
China is only the third nation capable of recovering satellites and has launched 22 recoverable satellites with one failure.
A conference was held on Saturday in Beijing by the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence to mark the accomplishment of the building of the breeding satellite.
The commission presides over the whole Shijian-8 project, while the Ministry of Agriculture is in charge of the breeding of plant seeds and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CAST) is responsible for designing and building the satellite, and studying the space environment for breeding.
Zhang Qingwei, president of the CAST, told China Daily earlier that China is scheduled to send nine satellites into orbit this year.
In addition to the space-breeding satellite, the country will put into space a meteorological satellite, an oceanic satellite, and SinoSat 2, which is a direct broadcasting satellite capable of beaming TV programmes to even the most remote rural regions in the country.
(China Daily 07/24/2006 page1)