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China launches its first unmanned cargo spacecraft

BEIJING (AP) – China on Thursday launched its first unmanned cargo spacecraft on a mission to dock with the country’s space station, marking further progress in the ambitious Chinese space program.

The Tianzhou 1 blasted off at 7:41 p.m. (1141 GMT) atop a latest-generation Long March 7 rocket from China’s newest spacecraft launch site, Wenchang, on the island province of Hainan. Minutes later, as the spacecraft cleared the atmosphere, the mission was declared a success by administrators at ground control on the outskirts of Beijing.

It is programmed to conduct scientific experiments after reaching the now-crewless Tiangong 2, China’s second space station. A pair of Chinese astronauts spent 30 days on board the station last year.

China launched the Tiangong 2 precursor facility in September and the station’s 20-ton core module will be launched next year. The completed 60-ton station is set to come into full service in 2022 and operate for at least a decade.

Communications with the earlier, disused Tiangong 1 experimental station were cut last year and it is expected to burn up on entering the atmosphere.

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