CHINA has outlined plans to build an orbiting science lab by 2023.
The “Heavenly Palace” station will house six people and serve as a test bed for experiments on astronomy, technology and more.
China hopes to build the spacecraft over the course of 11 rocket launches, reports SpaceNews.
The first of these will take place next year, Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s human spaceflight program, said at a conference in Beijing Tuesday.
Once operational, China’s lab will rival the International Space Station (ISS) built by space agencies from the US, Japan, Russia, Canada and Europe.
The ISS has orbited roughly 250 miles above Earth’s surface since 1998 and also serves as a space environment research laboratory.
Jianping’s announcement comes shortly after the China National Space Administration (CNSA) launched its newest rocket earlier this month.
The Long March 5B is designed to carry large payloads into low-Earth orbit.
Launch of the new station’s core module on a Long March 5B could take place in early 2021, Jianping said.
A model of the huge module was displayed at an airshow in Zhuhai, China in 2018.
As part of the 11 missions, China hopes to launch two experiment modules, four crewed spacecraft and four cargo vehicles.
A number of international scientific projects will take place on the station, from astronomy to research into deep space travel.
According to Jianping, a total of 18 astronauts will be plucked from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Training has already begun, SpaceNews reports.
President Xi Jinping has prioritised advancing China’s space program to strengthen national security.
The country has already sent two space stations into space – Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 – though only Chinese astronauts boarded them.
The U.S. Defense Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations from using space-based assets in a crisis.
China insists it has only peaceful ambitions in space, but has tested anti-satellite missiles.
In other news, a SpaceX launch that was due to take astronauts to the ISS on Wednesday was cancelled at the last minute.
The mission could have triggered a lightning storm if the rocket had taken off, Nasa boss Jim Bridenstine has admitted.
The launch has now been rescheduled for May 30.