China will launch the Tiangong-2 space lab in the third quarter of this year
It also plans to launch a manned spacecraft, the Shenzhou-11, in the fourth quarter
China announced Sunday it was sending its second space lab into orbit later this year, followed by a manned spacecraft that will dock with it.
Tiangong-2, or “Heavenly Palace-2,” will be the second Chinese space lab deployed above earth in five years.
If the launch is successful, the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft will go up with two astronauts on board and try to connect with Tiangong-2 while in orbit, a statement from the office of the China Manned Space Program said.
But before that, the country will test launch the Long March 7, a rocket it’s developing to carry a cargo spacecraft to the Tiangong-2 in early 2017.
“Long March 7 is the newest rocket developed for our manned space program,” the statement said.
“It will be the baseline model for the latest generation of our medium-sized rocket. Its launch will greatly improve China’s capability in entering and returning from space.”
A greater goal
All these experiments play into China’s greater goal to build its very own space station around the year 2020.
The Tiangong-2, and its predecessor Tiangong-1, are prototypes for a space station.
The statement on Sunday said the space station project was moving ahead as planned.
China’s first spacelab, the Tiangong-1, went into orbit in September 2011. An unmanned spacecraft successful docked with it a few weeks later, and manned spacecraft docked in 2012 and 2013.
China had a lot of catching up to do when it first got into the space race.
It didn’t send its first satellite into space until 1970 – just after the U.S. put the first man on the moon. But over the last four decades, China has pumped enormous amounts of money and resources into research and training. It sent its first astronaut into space in October 2003.
Since then, 10 more Chinese astronauts have gone into orbit.
CNN’s Steven Jiang in Beijing contributed to this report