China on Thursday successfully launched the core module of its first space station, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported, as President Xi Jinping pledges to make the Asian country a space power.
Later in the day, Xi hailed the success of the launch, with Xinhua quoting him as saying it "marks that China's space station construction has entered the full implementation stage, which lays a solid foundation for the follow-up tasks."
As the Communist-led government has been steadily moving ahead with space development projects in recent years, expectations are growing that the competition between China and the United States will intensify in the field.
In an attempt to develop new materials and promote the study of bioscience, China plans to continue sending modules to complete the construction of the nation's space station, named Tiangong, by the end of 2022.
The Long March-5B Y2 rocket, carrying the Tianhe module, blasted off from a launch site on the coast of the southern island province of Hainan on Thursday. Tianhe will act as the management and control hub of the space station, according to Xinhua.
The core cabin module will be able to house three crew members for an extended period in the future.
Late last year, an unmanned Chinese space probe returned to Earth with the first lunar soil samples taken in 44 years as the Asian power became the third country to bring back material from the Moon after the United States and Russia.
Also, China's first Mars probe successfully entered the orbit of the red planet earlier this year.