UA 14-ton Long March 7 rocket with food, equipment and fuel on board took off from the Wenchang launch site on the southern tropical island of Hainan, the New China news agency reported.
The cargo vessel successfully separated from the thruster, went into orbit and deployed its solar panels, the agency said, citing the Chinese Space Agency (CMSA).
Docking to the station’s base module occurred at 9:01 p.m. GMT, the agency said, citing the Chinese Space Agency.
The space station, called “Tiangong” (“Heavenly Palace”), will need about ten launches to complete its assembly in orbit. It should be operational in 2022.
Once completed, it is expected to remain in low earth orbit for 15 years.
After the eventual withdrawal from the International Space Station (ISS) after 2028, Tiangong could become the only human outpost in Earth orbit.
“We will transport the necessary support material, spare parts and equipment first, and then our crew,” CMSA director Hao Chun said as quoted by China New.
China will start preparing to send three astronauts to space.
Beijing has allocated billions to its space program in an attempt to catch up with pioneers Russia and the United States, with ambitious plans in Earth orbit and the landing of unmanned spacecraft on the Moon and Mars.
But China has come under heavy criticism from the United States and many experts for a potentially dangerous violation of space rules.
Indeed, at the beginning of the month, it let a huge rocket segment fall back to Earth after launching the central module of its space station.
Although the Chinese authorities have assured that they are open to international collaborations at their station, the framework thereof remains unclear.
But the European Space Agency (ESA) has already sent astronauts to China to train to work in Tiangong in anticipation of its completion.
Earlier this month, China successfully landed its “Zhurong” rover on Mars, becoming the third country to successfully land a craft on the Red Planet.
The rover is expected to start studying Martian geology soon. He is expected to spend three months taking photos and collecting data on a vast lava plain in the northern hemisphere.