China launches second space station, Tiangong 2

The Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tiangong-2 module blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. China has launched its second space station in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years. (Chinatopix via AP)
The Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tiangong-2 module blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. China has launched its second space station in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years. (Chinatopix via AP)
The Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tiangong-2 module blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China's Gansu Province, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. China has launched its second space station in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years. (Chinatopix via AP)

BEIJING — China has launched its second space station in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military-backed program that intends to send a mission to Mars in the coming years.

The Tiangong 2 was carried into space on Thursday night atop a Long March 7 rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on the edge of the Gobi Desert in northern China.

Plans call for the launch next month of the Shenzhou 11 spaceship with two astronauts to dock with the station and remain on board for a month. The station, whose name means "Heavenly Palace," is considered a stepping stone to a mission to Mars by the end of the decade.

The Tiangong 2 module will be used for "testing systems and processes for mid-term space stays and refueling," and will house experiments in medicine and various space-related technologies.

China's first space station, Tiangong 1, was launched in September 2011 and officially went out of service earlier this year after having docked with three visiting spacecraft.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming only the third country after Russia and the U.S. to do so, and has since staged a spacewalk and landed its Yutu rover on the moon. Administrators suggest a manned landing on the moon may also be in the program's future.

China was prevented from participating in the International Space Station, mainly due to U.S. concerns over the security risks of involving the increasingly assertive Chinese military in the multinational effort.

A source of enormous national pride, China's space program plans a total of 20 missions this year at a time when the U.S. and other countries' programs are seeking new roles.

China is also developing the Long March 5 heavier-lift rocket needed to launch other components of the Tiangong 2 and other massive payloads.

China plans to land a rover on Mars by 2020, attempting to recreate the success of the U.S. Viking 1 mission that landed a rover on the planet four decades ago.

Must Read

Merkel appeals to Russia to enable Syria...

Sep 5, 2016

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is renewing an appeal to Russia to enable a cease-fire in Syria and...

May says Britain still inspires confidence...

Sep 5, 2016

After meeting with other world leaders during the G-20 summit, British Prime Minister Theresa May...

Leader of Chinese protest village gets 3 years in...

Sep 9, 2016

The democratically elected mayor of a fishing village in southern China _ which became a focus of...

Taiwan loses diplomatic ally in move welcomed by...

Dec 21, 2016

Taiwan has condemned the African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe's "abrupt" move to break...

Asian stocks rise after Wall Street gains

Dec 21, 2016

Asian stocks are higher after U.S. stocks rose to record levels despite attacks in Germany and...

People also read these

Bumpy beginning for Obama in China, starting on...

Sep 4, 2016

If President Barack Obama was hoping for a graceful start to his final trip to Asia as commander in...

Obama and Putin meet in China amid struggle for...

Sep 5, 2016

US, Russia struggle to keep alive negotiations to end the bloodshed between U.S.-backed rebels

Hong Kong pro-democracy candidates retain veto in...

Sep 5, 2016

A group of young Hong Kong pro-democracy activists has pulled off a stunning election victory,...

Merkel appeals to Russia to enable Syria...

Sep 5, 2016

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is renewing an appeal to Russia to enable a cease-fire in Syria and...

Asian markets lower after Wall Street decline

Sep 15, 2016

Asian stock markets were mostly lower Thursday following Wall Street's decline in light trading...