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China's first home-built icebreaker begins assembly
A helicopter transports goods and materials from China's research icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, to Zhongshan Station in the Antarctic in December. BAI GUOLONG/XINHUA

On Wednesday, China State Shipbuilding Corp started assembling China's first self-developed icebreaker at a shipyard in Shanghai, which is expected to start its first scientific expedition to the Antarctica next year.

At a building berth of the Jiangnan Shipyard, Xuelong 2, or Snow Dragon 2, will be built by connecting different sections. Through computer modeling, the hull will be divided into 114 sections, which will then be assembled into 11 parts and then joined together, stern to bow and bottom to top.

After that, the icebreaker will be painted and equipped with scientific expedition equipment at the berth.

According to the schedule, Snow Dragon 2 will leave berth in Aug 2018, following procedures such as interior decoration, equipment and system adjustment and mooring experimentation.

It is expected to be commissioned in the first half of 2019, to team up with the country's sole current icebreaker Xuelong to conduct scientific research missions in polar areas.

The newly built vessel will considerably improve performance in icy zones, as it can break ice using either its bow or stern. It will be the world's first icebreaker for scientific exploration in polar areas to use two-way icebreaking technology.

The ship will be able to break 1.5-meter-thick ice and endure temperatures of -30 C. It has good mobility and incorporates strict environmental protection measures.

It can quickly change direction in ice zones, greatly improving safety in the complicated conditions of Antarctic off-shore areas.

The basic design of Snow Dragon 2 was finished by Finland, yet detail design, production design and reviews were performed by domestic institutions and companies.

"The project is not simply purchasing the designs and drawings from foreign companies this time," Wu Gang, chief designer of Snow Dragon 2, said.

In building China's first domestically built icebreaker, "It's a road we've never taken before," Wu said. "So we decided to work with a partner to ensure its smooth run."

The State Council said in 2015 the icebreaker project is "collaboratively designed by domestic and foreign experts, but independently built at home."

China owns the intellectual property rights of Snow Dragon 2, according to Wu.

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