China is set to launch its first cargo spacecraft, taking another step towards its goal of establishing a permanently manned space station by 2022.
President Xi Jinping has prioritised advancing China’s space program to strengthen national security and defence.
The Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft will be launched at 7.41pm local time on Thursday (2141 AEST), borne aloft on a Long March-7 Y2 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre in the southern island province of Hainan, the Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.
It is designed to dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or “Heavenly Palace 2”, where two astronauts spent a month in space last October in China’s longest manned space mission.
The mission will provide an “important technological basis” for the construction of China’s space station, Xinhua said.
The spacecraft can carry six tonnes of goods, two tonnes of fuel and can fly unmanned for three months, state media have said.
Despite the advances in its space program for military, commercial and scientific purposes, China still lags the United States and Russia.
In late 2013, China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover landed on the Moon to great national fanfare, but ran into severe technical difficulties.