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BEIJING, 14 Feb 2017:
China plans to launch its first cargo spacecraft in April, state media reported today – taking a step towards its goal of establishing a permanently manned space station by 2022.
President Xi Jinping has prioritised advancing China’s space programme, saying it was needed to enhance national security and defence. Plans for the maiden voyage of the cargo spacecraft were reported on the front page of the People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper.
The Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft will be carried into space by a Long March-7 Y2 rocket launched from Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre in south China’s island province of Hainan, the daily reported, citing the China Manned Space Agency.
The Tianzhou-1 is designed to dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or “Heavenly Palace 2”, which China used to carry out its longest ever manned space mission last October, sending two astronauts into space for a month aboard the laboratory.
The spacecraft can carry six tonnes of goods, two tonnes of fuel and can fly unmanned for three months, the newspaper said.
For all the advances China has made in its space programme for military, commercial and scientific purposes, it is still lagging the US and Russia.
China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover landed on the Moon in late 2013 to great national fanfare, but soon suffered severe technical difficulties.
The US Defence Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations using space-based assets in a crisis.