China will launch its second space lab Tiangong-2 into orbit in the third quarter of this year, followed by the cargo ship Tianzhou-1 in mid-2017. The latter is expected to dock with the Tiangong-2 to conduct experiments.
China is also planning to send the manned Shenzhou 11 spacecraft into space later this year that will also dock with Tiangong-2. The Shenzhou 11 spacecraft, which will be launched by two Long March 2F carrier rockets, will carry two astronauts.
The initial test flight for the next-generation Long March 7 rocket was completed at the Wenchang satellite launch center in Hainan Province.
The Long March 7 rocket will bring the Tianzhou-1 or "heavenly vessel," China's first cargo ship, into space in mid-2017.
"[Long March 7] will be the baseline model for the latest generation of our medium-sized rocket. Its launch will greatly improve China's capability in entering and returning from space," a statement China's space agency said.
Shenzhou 11 astronauts are currently training for the launch later this year. The new space lab, the spacecrafts and their accompanying rockets are either in the assembly or examination phases.
China aims to have a permanent, manned and functional space station by 2022. A spokesperson said that by 2020, construction on China's first orbiting space station will be concluded. The multi-billion-dollar space project continues to increase national pride in China these recent years.
China's space station will have three parts, two labs and a core module. Each lab will weigh about 20 tonnes.
The Tiangong-1, the first space lab, was launched in September 2011. During its first two years, the Tiangong-1 has completed two dockings with the core module.
The Tiangong-1 has been in space for nearly five years. The spokesperson said its pristine condition allows it to remain in orbit for further operation.
China is a bit behind in the space race. They launched their first space satellite in 1970, about 11 years after the U.S. first sent man to the moon.
In the last 40 years, China has put vast amount of resources into space research and training. In 2003, the first Chinese astronaut went into space followed by 10 more who have gone into orbit.
Photo : NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | Flick