China's Space Plans: First Chinese Cargo Spacecraft Will Lift Off In April
As far as the space race goes, China is still way behind fellow superpowers United States and Russia.
This year, however, President Xi Jinping has vowed to advance the country's space program, saying he believes it will enhance national defense and security. The country's space agency aims to conduct at least 30 space launch missions this year to break records in its own history.
First on the country's bucket list for 2017 is launching its first cargo spacecraft called the Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft, which will be sent to space for its maiden voyage in April.
Doing so will help take a step forward in China's goal of establishing its own manned space station by 2022, as reported by the country's official newspaper, the People's Daily.
China's Space Laboratory
The China Manned Space Agency said the Tianzhou-1 will be launched into space in April inside the Long March-7 Y2 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Hainan.
The Tianzhou-1 spacecraft can carry 2 tons of fuel and 6 tons of goods, Reuters reported. The spacecraft, which was designed to fly without manned maneuvers for three months, will merge with the Tiangong-2 space laboratory.
In October 2016, the Tiangong-2 was used to carry out China's longest manned mission in space, sending two astronauts to live aboard the space laboratory for a month. Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong returned to Earth on Nov. 18 after spending 30 days in orbit inside the Tiangong-2 space laboratory.
By sending the Tiangong-2 to space, China had hoped to lay the groundwork for its own permanently manned space station once the International Space Station retires by 2024.
"Tiangong is a precursor testbed of capabilities," said space security professor Joan Johnson-Freese.
Moon And Mars Missions
China's ambitious five-year space plan includes landing a probe on the far side of the moon by 2018 as well as sending a robotic space probe to Mars. If successful, China's lunar mission will become the first to explore the dark side of the moon.
As for the plans to send a probe to Mars, China plans to explore and retrieve samples from the red planet to allow scientists to investigate the evolution of the solar system and further the search for alien life.
Details about both missions are still undisclosed, particularly on what the Mars probe would be like, how it will function, and when the actual launch will be, although the target date for the Mars mission is 2020.