Beijing, China (Reuters): China have revealed plans to construct a permanent manned space station in 2019 after carrying out a successful in-orbit refueling from its Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft, officials leading the project said on Friday.
The state media reported that Tianzhou-1, China's first cargo spacecraft, launched on April 20 and completed the first of three planned docking attempts with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space-lab two days later.
The successful 5-day refueling, directed from technicians on Earth and completed on Thursday, is a key milestone towards China's plans to begin sending crews to a permanent space station by 2022.
"This again announces the ambition and aspiration of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people, and our resolute confidence in becoming a major space power," the space station project's supervisor Wang Zhaoyao told a news briefing in Beijing.
"After completing experimental stage spaceflight missions, we will enter the development and construction phase. According to our plans we will carry out the assembly and construction of China's manned space station between 2019 and 2022."
According to the official Xinhua news agency, President Xi Jinping has prioritized advancing China's space program to strengthen national security. The Central Military Commission, chaired by Xi, sent a letter congratulating staff of the Tianzhou-1 mission for realising our unremitting space dream.
The US Defense Department has highlighted China's increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations from using space-based assets in a crisis.
China insists it has only peaceful ambitions in space, but has tested anti-satellite missiles.