China launched a cargo ship carrying supplies for the future space station on Saturday, state media said, after technical delays.
China News Agency reported that a 14-ton Long March 7 missile carrying food, equipment and fuel took off from the launch site in Wenchang on the southern tropical island of Hainan.
The agency said, citing the China Space Agency (CMSA), that the cargo ship successfully detached from the thrust and entered orbit and deployed its solar panels.
The space station called “Tiangong” (“Heavenly Palace”) will need about ten launches to complete its assembly into orbit. It should be fully operational in 2022.
Once completed, it is expected to remain in low Earth orbit for 15 years.
After the possible withdrawal from the International Space Station (ISS) after 2028, Tiangong could become the only human outpost in Earth’s orbit.
“We will transport the necessary support materials, spare parts and equipment first, then our staff,” CMSA director Hao Chun was quoted by the China New newspaper as saying.
Once the cargo ship docks at the space station, China will begin preparing to send three astronauts into space.
Beijing has allocated billions of dollars to its space program in an attempt to catch up with the pioneers Russia and the United States, with ambitious plans in Earth orbit and the landing of an unmanned spacecraft on the moon and Mars.
But China has come under heavy criticism from the United States and many experts for its potentially serious violation of space rules.
In fact, at the beginning of the month, a huge rocket segment was left to return to Earth after the central unit launched its space station.
Although the Chinese authorities have confirmed that they are open to international cooperation at their station, their framework remains unclear.
But the European Space Agency (ESA) has already sent astronauts to China for job training in Tiangong in anticipation of its completion.
Earlier this month, China successfully landed its “Zhurong” rover on Mars, becoming the third country to successfully land a vehicle on the Red Planet.
The rover is expected to begin studying Mars geology soon. He is expected to spend three months taking pictures and gathering data on a vast lava plain in the northern hemisphere.
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