China to start space station construction next year
China plans to launch the first module of its planned space station next year.
According to the Xinhua news agency, the laboratory module, named Tiangong 1 or 'Heavenly Palace' will be launched on a modified version of the Long March 2F rocket. This has already been assembled, and is about to start testing.
Tiangong 1 will initially be used as a docking station for other spacecraft. There are three docking missions planned in the next two years, with the Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft, each of which will have a crew of two or three.
The 8.5 ton lab is about 30 feet long, and will have a crew of three.
It will provide a 'safe room' for Chinese astronauts to live in and conduct zero gravity research, officials said.
The Tiangong 1 launch was originally scheduled for launch this year, but was delayed for technical reasons. There's no timescale for the completion of the space station.
China is also planning to launch its second lunar probe late this year.