China's first cargo spacecraft launch a 'crucial step' to space station

China aims be on Mars by the end of 2020
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Story highlights

  • The cargo craft is due to dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab
  • China aims to be among the world's "major space powers" by 2030

(CNN)China launched its first cargo spacecraft Thursday night, according to state media Xinhua, which described it as a "crucial step for China's plan to have an operational space station by 2020."

The Tianzhou-1 took off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China's southern Hainan province, on track to dock with the orbiting space lab Tiangong-2.
    The launch was the latest in a series of major announcements by the Chinese space program, which celebrated its longest-ever space mission in November.
    The Tianzhou 1 is transferred to the launching site in Hainan Province on April 17.
    "Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world," Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the National Space Administration, said at a December news conference.
    The Tianzhou-1 is a medium-sized rocket fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene, and it can carry cargo spacecraft and satellites weighing more than six tons, Xinhua reports.
    It is due to dock with the Tiangong-2 space lab and carry out experiments, state media says, before falling back to Earth.

    China: We'll be on Mars by 2020

    The Chinese government has ambitious plans for its space program.
    China's giant telescope
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    The country's space agency has said it aims to land on the moon by 2018 and on Mars by 2020. Officials also have discussed sending probes to Jupiter and its moons.
    In mid-November, two Chinese astronauts returned to Earth after spending 30 days in space, living and working in China's Tiangong-2 space lab. It was the country's longest space mission.
    The lab itself is a test for a future Chinese space station, which the space agency has said it hopes to launch before 2024.
    In September, China activated the world's largest telescope, consisting of a 1,640-foot (500-meter) wide dish, to aid in the search for intelligent life in space.