Beijing, China (Reuters): China has announced its plans to launch first cargo spacecraft via a Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket in April, state media reported on Tuesday, taking a step toward its goal of establishing a permanently-manned space station by 2022.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has prioritized advancing China's space program, saying it was needed to enhance national security and defense. According to official Communist Party newspaper, plans for the maiden voyage of the cargo spacecraft were reported on the front page of the People's Daily.
The daily reported, citing the China Manned Space Agency, the Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft will be carried into space by a Long March-7 Y2 rocket launched from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in south China's island province of Hainan.
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 newspaper said that the spacecraft can carry 6 tons of goods, 2 tons of fuel, and can fly unmanned for three months.
For all the advances China has made in its space program for military, commercial, and scientific purposes, it is still lagging the United States 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 Defense 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.