China's latest launch represents new phase in space station mission
The launch of China's first cargo-carrying spacecraft will represent a new milestone in the country's rapidly developing space program.
China is the third country to launch a human into orbit and the third country to reach the Moon. Its lunar rover, nicknamed Jade Rabbit, captured the public's attention several years ago after landing on the surface of the Moon.
The public are now following the progress of Tianzhou-1, a cargo spacecraft that will dock with the in-orbit Tiangong-2 space lab. It's a key step on the way to China launching its first space station, which is being planned for 2020.
"They're definitely looking at things that would differentiate themselves and highlight their technical capabilities,” said Brendan Curry, vice president of government affairs for the US-based Space Foundation, which recently held the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This annual gathering attracts space industry professionals from dozens of countries, and also included China this year.
"A mission needs to have more than just its scientific content. It needs to inspire, it needs to excite, it needs to explain,” said Michael Simpson, the executive director of the Secure World Foundation, a body that, according to its official website, envisions the secure, sustainable and peaceful uses of outer space contributing to global stability and benefits on Earth. On China's latest launch, Simpson said "well, it's significant because it does show their capacity to rendezvous in space.”
This November, China plans to launch a robotic mission to gather and collect samples from the Moon. Simpson says space powers like China are working to bring engineering, science and process together.