China has outlined plans to build an orbiting science lab by 2023.
The “Celestial Palace” station will house six people and serve as a test bed for astronomy experiments, technology, and more.
China hopes to build the spacecraft over the course of 11 rocket launches, SpaceNews reports.
The first of these will take place next year, Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s human space flight program, said at a conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
Once operational, the China laboratory will compete with the International Space Station (ISS) built by US space agencies. USA, Japan, Russia, Canada and Europe.
The ISS has orbited approximately 250 miles above the Earth’s surface since 1998 and also serves as a research laboratory for the space environment.
Jianping’s announcement comes shortly after the China National Space Administration (CNSA) launched its new rocket earlier this month.
The Long March 5B is designed to carry large loads in low Earth orbit.
The launch of the new station’s core module on a Long March 5B could take place in early 2021, Jianping said.
A model of the large module was exhibited at an air show in Zhuhai, China in 2018.
As part of the 11 missions, China hopes to launch two experimental modules, four manned spacecraft, and four cargo vehicles.
Various international scientific projects, from astronomy to research into deep space travel, will be carried out at the station.
According to Jianping, a total of 18 astronauts will be removed from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Training has already begun, reports SpaceNews.
President Xi Jinping has prioritized the advancement of China’s space program to strengthen national security.
The country has already sent two space stations into space: Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, although only Chinese astronauts boarded them.
The United States Department of Defense has highlighted China’s growing space capacity, saying it was carrying out activities aimed at preventing other nations from using space-based assets in a crisis.
China insists that it only has peaceful ambitions in space, but has tested anti-satellite missiles.