China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station, named Tianhe or “Heavenly Harmony”. A Long March 5B rocket carryied the core module for the Chinese space station lifting off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang, in southern China’s Hainan province, on Thursday. This is a major advance for the country’s space exploration. China was barred from participating to the actual ISS by the United States. “(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech. The Chinese space station will have a lifespan of at least 10 years. Work on the space station program began a decade ago. 11 missions will be needed to complete, supply and crew the station by the end of next year. The core module is the section of the station where astronauts will live for up to six months at a time.
Tianhe will have a docking port and will also be able to connect with a powerful Chinese space satellite. China wants to become a major space power by 2030. Its space program includes visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station. China’s space program has also recently brought back the first new lunar samples in more than 40 years and expects to land a probe and rover on the surface of Mars later next month. Russia chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years. European nations and the United Nations are expected to co-operate on experiments to be done on the completed Chinese station.