BEIJING, March 7 -- China will send a cargo ship into the space in 2016 to dock with a future space module scheduled to be launched earlier the same year, a leading Chinese space scientist said Friday.
The Tianzhou-1, which literally means "heavenly vessel", will carry propellants, living necessities for astronauts, research facilities and repair equipment to China's second orbiting space lab Tiangong-2, said Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China's manned space program.
Cargo transportation system is a key technology China must master and make breakthroughs to build its own space station, said Zhou who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body.
China's multi-billion-dollar space program, a source of surging national pride in the country, aims to put a permanent manned space station into service around 2022.
The country already launched its first space lab, Tiangong-1, in September 2011 and has conducted two dockings with the module in the following two years. In June 2013, three Chinese astronauts delivered a physics lesson onboard Tiangong-1.
According to Zhou, Tianzhou-1 will be blasted off on top of a next-generation Long March-7 rocket, possibly from a new launch site in the southern Hainan Province.
Research on the Long March-5 carrier rocket - to be used to lift the Tiangong-2 lab into space - Tiangong-2's payload, and selection of astronauts for the mission are currently "progressing in an orderly manner," Zhou said.