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China launches Tiangong-2 space lab

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China launches Tiangong-2 space lab
00:40 - Source: CCTV

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Space lab is a precursor to a 20-ton space station

China is pressing ahead with ambitious space plans

CNN  — 

China has launched its second space lab, taking one step further in Beijing’s plan to establish a permanent space station.

A Long March 2F rocket blasted off successfully at 10:04 p.m. local time Thursday (10:04 a.m. ET) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert carrying the lab known as Tiangong-2, which translates to “heavenly vessel,” according to state media China Central Television.

The Long March 2F carrier rocket is carried to the launch tower last week.

Once in space, the Tiangong-2 will maneuver itself into orbit roughly 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) above the Earth, CCTV reported.

A spacecraft will ferry a two-man crew to the lab in October – China’s first manned mission since 2013. The astronauts will remain in the lab for a month, where they will be carrying out experiments related to medicine, physics and biology. It’s China’s longest mission yet.

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China's space race
01:57 - Source: CNN

The Tiangong-2 and its predecessor, Tiangong-1, are prototypes for China’s ultimate goal – a permanent 20-ton space station, which is expected to launch after 2020.

“Tiangong is a precursor test bed of capabilities; building toward the large space station has always been the culminating goal of the Shenzhou program,” said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the US Naval War College specializing in space programs and space security.