China plans to launch its first cargo spacecraft to transport supplies to its future space station in April, the media reported on Tuesday.
The Tianzhou-1 will be able to transport six tonnes, which exceeds the capacity of current Chinese spacecraft that can carry a maximum of three astronauts and 300 kg of material, Efe reported.
The module will arrive next week at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre, located in Hainan, where it will be assembled and tested, according to the China Manned Space Agency that oversees manned space missions.
The Tianzhou-1 will be launched aboard the Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket, which China tested successfully recently to transport modules of the space station.
The Tianzhou-1 has a take-off weight of around 13 tonnes and can remain in orbit for three months, during which it will dock at the Tiangong-2 space lab to refuel and conduct research.
Two astronauts have already spent 33 days in the Tiangong-2 space lab, located 393 km from the Earth’s surface, the country’s longest manned space mission yet.
Tianzhou-1 has been designed to carry large quantities of food, water, oxygen and support materials for resident astronauts when China’s permanent space station becomes fully operational.
China is expected to send the central module of the orbital space station in 2018 and hopes to have an 80-tonne preliminary structure in place by 2020 and the station completed and operational by 2022 before the International Space Station retires in 2024.