China to launch first cargo spacecraft for space lab on April 20

China's first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 is to be launched into space between April 20 and 24 to dock with the orbiting experimental space station.

China launches manned spacecraft Shenzhou-11 into orbit
Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft carrying astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong blasts off from the launchpad Reuters

China will launch its first cargo spacecraft on Thursday, moving a step closer towards its aim of establishing a permanently manned space station by 2022, state media said on Wednesday.

President Xi Jinping has prioritised advancing China's space programme to strengthen national security and defence.

The Xinhua news agency said the Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft will be launched at 7:41 p.m. (1141 GMT), borne aloft on a Long March-7 Y2 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre in the southern island province of Hainan.

The spacecraft is designed to with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or "Heavenly Palace 2. Last October, two astronauts spent a month there in space, which is known to be China's longest ever manned space mission.

According to Xinhua, the mission will provide an "important technological basis" for the construction of China's space station. The state media added that the spacecraft can carry 6 tonnes of goods, 2 tonnes of fuel and can fly unmanned for three months.

However, in spite of having made so many advances in its space programme for military, commercial and scientific purposes, China still lags the United States and Russia.

China's Jade Rabbit moon rover landed on the Moon to great national fanfare in late 2013. But, unfortunately ran into severe technical difficulties.

The country's increasing space capabilities has been highlighted by the U.S. Defense Department. It said that China was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations from using space-based assets in a crisis.