BEIJING (AFP) – China will launch its second orbiting space laboratory in two years’ time, a top official said Wednesday, the latest step in an ambitious space programme Beijing says will one day land a Chinese man on the moon.
Astronaut Yang Liwei, who in 2003 became China’s first man in space and is now deputy director of the country’s manned space programme, made the announcement at the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) congress in Beijing.
“We are going to launch the spacelab Tiangong-2 in 2016, and then we will launch Shenzhou-11 and then Tianzhou-1 cargo spaceship to dock on the spacelab,” he said.
It is the first time China has hosted the annual meeting, which has drawn nearly 100 astronauts from 18 countries to Beijing, in a marker of the country’s scientific progress.
Beijing sees its multi-billion-dollar space programme as a symbol of its rise and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
Yang added that Beijing plans to launch an experimental core space station module in 2018 and finish construction of a Chinese space station around 2022.
Around the same time the rival International Space Station, operated by the US, Russia, Japan, Canada and Europe, is due to be retired.
“We believe humans will continue carrying out further space and moon exploration activities,” Yang said. “Research and technology development on this area will continue much further down the track.”