China on Thursday launched the core module for its first permanent space station that will host astronauts long-term.
The Tianhe, or “Heavenly Harmony," module blasted into space atop a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang Launch Center on the southern island province of Hainan, marking another major advance for the country's space exploration program that has chalked up a series of accomplishments in recent months.
The launch begins the first of 11 missions necessary to construct and provision the station and send up a three-person crew by the end of next year. The astronauts will live on the station for six months at a time.
China's space programme has also recently brought back the first new lunar samples in more than 40 years and expects to land a probe and rover on the surface of Mars later next month.