China on Saturday launched a cargo rocket with provisions for its future space station, which is still under construction, after several delays for technical reasons, state media reported.
The 14-ton-long 7 March rocket carrying the Tianzhou-2 spacecraft loaded with food, equipment and fuel sailed from the Wenchang Launch Center in the southern province of Hainan, Xinhua reported.
Xinhua quoted the Chinese space agency as saying that the cargo successfully detached from the spacecraft rocket, entered orbit and opened its solar panels.
The assembly of the orbital space station, called Tiangong, meaning “celestial palace”, would require about ten missions.
It is expected to be fully operational by 2022 and to remain active in the Earth’s orbit for 15 years.
After the possible retirement of the International Space Station after 2028, Tiangong Station may become the only remote outpost with humans in Earth’s orbit.
“First, we will need to transport auxiliary materials, necessary spare parts and equipment and then our crew,” Chinese space agency director Hao Chun quoted Xinhua as saying.
While the cargo ship docks at the station, China will begin preparing to send three astronauts to unpack the cargo, which, according to the agency, includes foods such as pork pork and kung pao chicken with garlic sauce.
Beijing has invested billions in its space program, in an effort to rise to the level of pioneers such as Russia and the United States, with ambitious projects orbiting Earth and sending unmanned spacecraft to the Moon and Mars.
Chinese officials have said that they are open to other countries to cooperate on their space station, but it is still unclear what this cooperation might involve.
This month, the Chinese rover Zurong landed on Mars and began sending images, with which China became the third country – after the United States and Russia – to be able to carry a guided robot to the red planet.