China launches second space station, Tiangong 2

September 15, 2016
The Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tiangong-2 module blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. China has launched its second space station in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years. (Chinatopix via AP)

China has launched its second space station in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years.

The Tiangong 2 was carried into space on Thursday night atop a Long March 7 rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China.

Plans call for the launch next month of the Shenzhou 11 spaceship with two astronauts to dock with the station and remain on board for a month. The station, whose name means "Heavenly Palace," is considered a stepping stone to a mission to Mars by the end of the decade.

The Tiangong 2 module will be used for "testing systems and processes for mid-term space stays and refueling," and will house experiments in medicine and various space-related technologies.

China's first space station, Tiangong 1, was launched in September 2011 and officially went out of service earlier this year after having docked with three visiting spacecraft.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming only the third country after Russia and the U.S. to do so, and has since staged a spacewalk and landed its Yutu rover on the moon. Administrators suggest a manned landing on the moon may also be in the program's future.

The Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tiangong-2 module blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. China has launched its second space station in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years. (Chinatopix via AP)

China was prevented from participating in the International Space Station, mainly due to U.S. concerns over the security risks of involving the increasingly assertive Chinese military in the multinational effort.

A source of enormous national pride, China's space program plans a total of 20 missions this year at a time when the U.S. and other countries' programs are seeking new roles.

China is also developing the Long March 5 heavier-lift rocket needed to launch other components of the Tiangong 2 and other massive payloads.

China plans to land a rover on Mars by 2020, attempting to recreate the success of the U.S. Viking 1 mission that landed a rover on the planet four decades ago.

The Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tiangong-2 module blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. China has launched its second space station in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years. (Chinatopix via AP)

Explore further: China on schedule for launch this year of 2nd space station

Related Stories

China to launch second space laboratory: report

September 14, 2016

China will launch its second space lab on Thursday, official media said Wednesday, as the Communist country works towards setting up its own space station, among several ambitious goals.

China plans next manned space mission for summer

February 28, 2013

China will send three astronauts on a mission to its orbiting space station this summer as part of preparations to establish an even larger permanent presence above Earth, the manned space program said Thursday.

Recommended for you

Making stars when the universe was half its age

January 18, 2019

The universe is about 13.8 billion years old, and its stars are arguably its most momentous handiwork. Astronomers studying the intricacies of star formation across cosmic time are trying to understand whether stars and the ...

Saturn hasn't always had rings

January 17, 2019

One of the last acts of NASA's Cassini spacecraft before its death plunge into Saturn's hydrogen and helium atmosphere was to coast between the planet and its rings and let them tug it around, essentially acting as a gravity ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ACoffeeDrinker
5 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2016
"the success of the U.S. Viking 1 mission that landed a rover on the planet four decades ago"

If I recall correctly, the Vikings were no rovers,but just landers.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Sep 15, 2016
That's what I (another coffee addict) was thinkin'...:-)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.