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China's first home-built polar research vessel and ice breaker, Xuelong 2, also known as Snow Dragon 2, is launched on July 11 in Shanghai. [Photo: VCG]

China's first home-built polar research vessel and ice breaker, Xuelong 2, also known as Snow Dragon 2, was launched Thursday in Shanghai, and will set sail this year.

Xuelong 2 is the country's the fourth polar research vessel. It is 122.5 meters long, and can break through 1.5-meter thick ice at a maximum speed of 3 knots.

Its first destination will be the Antarctic region.

Xuelong 2 will carry out expedition missions with China's first icebreaker Xuelong. They will greatly boost the country's capabilities in the exploration and study of polar regions.

Xuelong, built in Ukraine, has conducted 22 expedition missions in Antarctica and nine expedition missions in the Arctic since it was put into service in 1994.

On Jan. 19, 2019, Xuelong collided with an iceberg in a dense ice area during China's 35th Antarctic expedition. The collision broke the vessel's mast, but the key parts remained sound. It returned to Shanghai in east China on Mar. 12.

China now maintains five polar stations, four in Antarctica—Changcheng, Zhongshan, Taishan and Kunlun, and one in the Arctic—Huanghe. China's sixth polar station is under construction on Inexpressible Island in the Ross Sea in Antarctica. It is expected to be completed by 2022.

China signed the Antarctic Treaty in 1983 and became a consultative member two years later. It sent its first expedition team to Antarctica in 1984.

The country joined the International Arctic Science Committee in 1996, and carried out the first scientific expedition in the Arctic in 1999.