China has outlined plans to build an orbital science laboratory in 2023.
The “Heavenly Palace” station will house six people and serve as a test bed for experiments with astronomy, technology and more.
China hopes to build the spacecraft during 11 rocket launches, reports SpaceNews.
The first of these will take place next year, Zhou Jianping, chief designer for China’s human spaceflight program, said at a conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
When it works, China’s laboratory will compete with the International Space Station (ISS) built by space organizations from the United States, Japan, Russia, Canada and Europe.
ISS has circled about 250 miles above Earth̵
Jianping’s announcement comes shortly after China’s National Space Agency (CNSA) launched its latest rocket earlier this month.
Long March 5B is designed to transport large payloads to a low ground track.
The launch of the new station’s core module on a Long March 5B could take place in early 2021, Jianping said.
A model of the huge module was shown at an air show in Zhuhai, China 2018.
As part of the 11 missions, China hopes to launch two experimental modules, four spacecraft and four trucks.
A number of international scientific projects will take place at the station, from astronomy to research on deep space travel.
According to Jianping, a total of 18 astronauts will be picked from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
Training has already begun, SpaceNews reports.
President Xi Jinping has prioritized promoting China’s space program to strengthen national security.
The country has already sent two space stations into space – Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 – although only Chinese astronauts boarded them.
The US Department of Defense has highlighted China’s increasing space capability, saying that it conducts operations aimed at preventing other countries from using space-based assets in a crisis.
China insists it has only peaceful ambitions in space but has tested anti-satellite missiles.