If everything goes smoothly, China will launch Tiangong-1 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at the end of 2010, said Zhang Jianqi, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of China's Manned Space Engineering Program.
Space.com reports that China is openly acknowledging that the new Tiangong outpost will involve military space operations and technology development.
Tiangong-1, weighing about 8.5 tons, has a support module and an experiment module which can carry much heavier loads than the Shenzhou spacecraft series. Tiangong-1 is also equipped with a spacecraft docking system.
Tiangong-1 is a target spacecraft China is developing for the next step in its space program-- the construction of a space station.
Zhang also disclosed that after the successful launch of "Tiangong-1," China will successively launch the Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecrafts to meet and dock with "Tiangong-1."
Its main mission will be to serve as the target for carrying out space rendezvous and docking experiments, to guarantee the working and living conditions of taikonauts as well as their safety during their short-term parking orbit. It will also carry out space application and aerospace medical experiments, space science experiments and technical testing of the space station, and basically establish a space experiment platform that can carry out short-term manned missions and long-term independent and reliably-operated unmanned missions.
"After completing the above tasks, we will start the third step, in which we will go all out to build a long-term manned space station by 2020." Zhang said, after that, "Tiangong-1" will be upgraded to a cargo spaceship. The cargo spaceship will not only have rendezvous and docking functions, it will provide refueling for the space station. The first launch of the cargo spaceship will take place at Hainan's Wenchang Satellite Launch Center.
Along with the Tiangong announcement comes another major revelation — that China now has two manned space station programs under development.
• The new Tiangong series, that can be launched on the same type Long March 2F booster used to carry Soyuz-type Shenzhou manned transports.
• And a larger 20-25 ton "Mir class" station that will follow by about 2020 launched on the new oxygen/hydrogen powered Long March 5 boosters.
China plans to land a nuclear powered unmanned lunar rover by 2012-2013 followed by an unmanned sample return mission about 2017.
In 2010-2011, before the rover and sample return missions are flown a Chinese-technology mission may be sent to the Moon to further demonstrate landing technologies. But the Chinese were not clear on whether it would go all the way to the surface.