China Launches First Unmanned Cargo Spacecraft Tianzhou 1

China has launched its first cargo spacecraft, making further progress in its goal of establishing a permanently manned space station by 2022.

Artist's illustration showing China's Tianzhou-1 freighter docking with the now orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab.

Speaking at the launch, Zhang Xueyu, launch site commander said, "I hereby declare that the Tianzhou 1 spacecraft launch has been succesfully completed".

Last October Tiangong-2 hosted the crew of Shenzhou-11 for what would be China's longest human spaceflight mission so far at just over 32 days.

Last year, China cut communications with its first prototype space station, Tiangong 1, which was launched in 2011. China is using this cutting age space lab to test new technologies for conducting larger manned space exploration missions in orbit by 2022.

A major milestone is achieved by China's space program.

Above: A view of the inside Tianzhou-1 and its cargo while in orbit (Framegrab/CCTV).

The ship, dubbed Tianzhou-1, will attempt to dock with China's Tiangong II space lab and conduct in-orbit refueling.

The two spacecraft will also fly separately for three months, during which time the cargo spaceship will complete its own space science experiments. The Tianzhou-1 spacecraft is 34.7 feet (10.6 meters) long and almost 11 feet (3.35 m) in diameter at its widest point. Reports say that it is now spiraling back to Earth and is expected to burn during re-entry on Earth's atmosphere. The Chinese space lab's core is set for launch in 2018.

Space program officials in China declared mission success shortly after the rocket launched and the vehicle deployed its solar panels. That is when NASA's International Space Station is scheduled to retire.

Zheleznyakov described the launch of Tianzhou-1 as a big step for Chinese space endeavors and an outstanding event for the worldwide space sector.

  • Joey Payne