Chinese cargo spacecraft set for liftoff in April

Tue 14 February 2017 19:56 GMT | 23:56 Local Time

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In April, China will launch a cargo spacecraft into orbit as part of a schedule to develop an international space station as soon as 2020.

A Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft could be headed into space "as early as mid-April" atop a Long March-7 Y2 rocket, representing a major milestone for China’s space program, according to People’s Daily, an English-language Chinese news outlet. One wonders if the launch will take place on April 24, which was named China’s Space Day last year by government officials, according to a Chinese white paper.

"The launch of Tianzhou-1 will be a crucial step for China in building a space station by 2020," the news service noted. The vessel arrived in Hainan Province on Monday where the China Manned Space Agency plans to conduct the launch, the agency said. The 13-ton spacecraft can hold 6 tons of supplies and two tons of fuel. It can also cruise autonomously for up to three months, the People’s Daily reported.

A white paper published in December, 2016 by the State Council Information Office states the China "always" adheres to the concept of using space exploration "for peaceful purposes," adding that China "opposes the weaponization of or an arms race in outer space." 

The white paper strikes a different tone than a 2015 China Daily article that said President Xi had requested the People’s Liberation Army air force division to "speed up" development of space-based capabilities. Militarizing in space is a "need of the times," China Daily noted. 

Wang Ya’nan, an editor of the Aerospace Knowledge magazine in Beijing, told the daily news service that the US has “paid considerable attention and resources” to developing outer-space military capabilities. "Though China has stated that it sticks to the peaceful use of space, we must make sure that we have the ability to cope with others’ operations in space," Wang said. 

Last Tuesday, the Pentagon announced the successful testing of Raytheon SM-3 IIA missile after it intercepted a ballistic missile target mid-flight by descending from outside the atmosphere. 

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