China launched a cargo rocket with items for its future space station, which is still under construction, on Saturday, after several technical delays, state media reported.
China News Agency (Xinhua) reported that a 14-ton Long March 7 missile, carrying the Tianzhu-2 spacecraft, loaded with food, equipment and fuel, took off from the Wenchang Launch Center in southern Hainan Province.
And Xinhua, citing the Chinese Space Agency, added that the spacecraft successfully detached from the rocket, entered orbit and opened its solar panels.
Assembling the orbiting space station, called Tiangong, which means “Heavenly Palace,” will require around ten missions.
It is expected to be fully operational by 2022 and to remain active in Earth’s orbit for up to 15 years.
After the potential retirement of the International Space Station after 2028, Tiangong could become the only remote outpost of humans in orbit around Earth.
“First, we will need to transport supporting materials, spare parts and necessary equipment, and then our crew,” Xinhua quoted Hao Chun, director of the China Space Agency, as saying.
While the cargo ship is docking at the terminal, China will begin preparations to dispatch three astronauts to unload the cargo, which include foods such as pulled pork with garlic sauce and kung pao chicken, according to the agency.
Beijing has invested billions in its space program in an effort to rise to the level of pioneers like Russia and the United States, with ambitious projects in Earth orbit 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 remains unclear what that cooperation could consist of.
This month, the Chinese rover Zhurong landed on Mars and began sending pictures, with which China became the third country – after the United States and Russia – to take a robot aimed at the Red Planet.