China is aiming to complete the work on its permanent space station by 2022, the officials of Chinese space agency said after the launch of a new spacecraft on Tuesday.
The lift-off took place from the coastal Wenchang Launch Centre in southern China's Hainan Province, and the launch success was confirmed nearly 20 minutes after the launch.
According to the officials, a new Long March-5B rocket carried with it an experimental unmanned spacecraft and a return capsule into the orbit.
The new spacecraft is reportedly an improvement on the three-module Shenzhou spacecraft, which is based on Russian Soyuz mode and is able to carry only three astronauts to space. The new spacecraft is designed to carry up to six astronauts or three astronauts and 500 kilograms of cargo to the low-earth orbit (LEO).
Hao Chun, the director of China Manned Space Engineering Office, said earlier this year that the country had planned to send twelve flight missions for the construction of China's space station.
"The first flight mission of [the] Long March-5B rocket is also to verify its performance," Hao Chun said in January.
China's crewed space programme reveals China's aspirations to rival the US, Russia, Europe and private aerospace companies in outer space exploration.
In 2011, China launched its first experimental space station - Tiangong-1 - which burned up in the atmosphere seven years later. The vehicle, however, enabled China to master the technologies needed to design bigger stations.
In 2016, China launched Tiangong-2, its second space station, to support long-duration missions. In the same year, two taikonauts were also sent to Tiangong-2, who stayed there for 33 days, setting a new record for consecutive days spent in space for China.
Chinese engineers and scientists are now working to build a larger space station that will feature multiple modules, much like the International Space Station. It will be shaped like a T, with a core module (Tianhe) at the centre and one lab capsule on either side, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.
China's space complex will offer 160 cubic meters of living space across the three modules. The ISS, in comparison, offers 388 cubic meters of living space for astronauts.
The Chinese space station will also have room for scientific experiments from multiple fields, including life science, basic physics and astronomy.
The country also aims to launch an optical telescope "in the same orbit" in near future, according to Xinhua.
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