The Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony” module was propelled into orbit by a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan It is the first of 11 missions that will see Beijing build its first permanent space station, which will be manned by a three-person crew. Another 10 launches will send up two more modules, four cargo supply shipments and four missions with crews.
The launch was watched by Premier Li Keqiang and other top civilian and military leaders.
Tianhe’s main module will initially be about the size of the American Skylab space station of the 1970s.
The station is designed to last for more than 10 years and will be significantly smaller than the International Space Station (ISS).
Gu Yidong, chief scientist of the China Manned Space programme, told reporters: “We did not intend to compete with the ISS in terms of scale.”
China decided to build its own space station after being excluded from participating in the ISS.
This was mostly due to US concerns over the Chinese programme’s secretive nature and close military ties.
Read More: POLL: Should people with Russian or Chinese jabs be accepted in UK?
A Chinese probe is also set to land on Mars within the next few weeks.
This would make China only the second country after the US to achieve such a task.
The Tianwen-1 space probe has been orbiting the Mars since February and preparing to land on the surface of the Red Planet, where its Zhurong rover will collect samples in a search for life.