Between 2019 and 2022, China seeks to build a massive, 60-ton space station reminiscent of the International Space Station, China Daily reported. Tianzhou-1’s recent flight “was the last flight mission of the country’s manned space program before construction of a permanent space station,” director of China’s manned space program Wang Zhaoyao said Friday.
On April 20, the Tianzhou took off from a satellite launch center in the Hainan province of China. The cargo ship was joined by the Tiangong-2 space lab on the route. On April 27, the cargo spacecraft finished a mid-orbit refueling operation, “marking the completion of the country’s space lab mission,” China Daily said.
Chinese scientists believe the accomplishment “shows that China’s manned space program has entered the space station era,” Wang said.
Most of the “key” technological developments and flight products have finished testing, he noted. “Chinese astronauts are preparing for the space station era,” the director explained, adding that astronauts “are expected to stay in space for three to six months,” while future missions could last longer.
The astronauts’ next big obstacle is to participate in “more extra-vehicular activities” while the station gets built, the Global Times reported.