China is planning to launch its first cargo spacecraft – Tianzhou-1 – capable of carrying 6 tonnes of goods and 2 tonnes of fuel in April, reports in China’s local media indicate.

The launch is considered a step by China towards its ultimate goal of having permanent presence in space through a manned space station by 2022. Plans for the maiden voyage of the cargo spacecraft were reported on the front page of the People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper.

The Tianzhou-1 cargo resupply spacecraft will be carried into space by a Long March-7 Y2 rocket launched from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in south China’s island province of Nanhai. The Tianzhou-1 is designed to dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, or “Heavenly Palace 2”, which China used to carry out its longest ever manned space mission last October, sending two astronauts into space for a month aboard the laboratory. The spacecraft can fly unmanned for three months, reports reveal.

President Xi Jinping has prioritised advancing China’s space programme, saying it was needed to enhance national security and defence. One of the reasons behind this is that while China has made advances in its space programme for military, commercial and scientific purposes, it is still lagging the United States and Russia.

China’s Jade Rabbit moon rover landed on the Moon in late 2013 to great national fanfare, but soon suffered severe technical difficulties.

The US Defense Department has highlighted China’s increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations using space-based assets in a crisis.

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