China today successfully launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft, taking another great leap towards realising the Communist nation's ambition to have a permanently manned space station by 2022.
The spacecraft, mounted atop China's Long March 7 carrier rocket, lifted off at 7:40 a.m. EDT (11:40 GMT) April 20, 2017, from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center (WSLC) on Hainan Island.
Two Chinese astronauts returned to Earth in mid-November after spending 30 days in space living and working in China's Tiangong 2 space lab, where they worked to find intelligent life, and even had a newly developed 500-meter telescope along for the ride - the biggest telescope in the world.More news: Serena Williams expecting baby this year
With at least two ports, one can have a crewed ship docked, leaving the other free for a cargo craft. Chinese officials have not said if or when launches of astronauts will shift to the more modern rockets.
Above: Tianzhou-1, with the docking mechanism visible, left, undergoing work in North China (CMSA). Russian Federation still uses Progress spacecraft today to refuel the International Space Station's (ISS's) station-keeping engines as well as to take supplies to ISS.
The Chinese space station will rely exclusively on the Tianzhou.More news: Saturn's Moon Enceladus Could Have Conditions for Life
Tianzhou-1, nicknamed "Tiangong's express delivery little brother" by Chinese media, is nearly 11 metres long, has a diameter of 3.35m and weighs 13 tonnes.
Tianzhou-1 will dock with Tiangong-2 three times to test in-orbit liquid propellant refueling. It has been created to stay in space for up to three months.
The science payloads include a cell bioreactor to test the influence of microgravity on mammalian cells including the development of different embryonic stem cells, and a two-phase fluid instrument for spacecraft fluid management. China's Xinhua news agency previously reported the Tianzhou 1 spacecraft will then fly on its own for around three months before re-entering Earth's atmosphere.More news: Trump to hold rally on night of White House Correspondents Dinner
China succeeded in putting a cargo spacecraft into orbit Thursday night to carry fuel and material to its space laboratory.