China launched the first module of its new space station on Thursday, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reports.
The missile with the so-called ‘Tianhe’ module onboard took off from the South China island province of Hainan.
Tianhe is approximately 16 meters long and is the first of four modules. The final station should be able to house three “taikonauts,” or Chinese astronauts, at the same time. China wants to finish the station in 2022 when it has a length of 20 meters. This makes the station five times smaller than the 109-meter long international space station ISS.
The previous two Chinese space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, crashed to Earth in 2018 and 2019. If this new station succeeds, it will remain in orbit at an altitude of between 340 and 450 kilometres.
The country has been focusing more and more on space travel in recent times. For example, in 2019, China became the first country ever to plant a lander on the moon’s far side.
Last February, the country put a satellite into orbit around Mars and next month, China will try to place a lander on the red planet. If this succeeds, China will be the third country ever, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to make a soft landing on Mars.