BEIJING – China on Sunday launched one of two laboratory units to complete A space station in perpetual orbit.
Wentian was launched from the tropical island of Hainan with a large crowd of amateur photographers and space enthusiasts watching. Designed for scientific and biological experiments, the unit blasted off on a distant Long March 5B 3 rocket and spent nearly eight minutes in flight before entering orbit, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
A second lab module, called Mengtian, is scheduled to launch in October, both of which will join the Tiangong Space Station. Three astronauts They are already living in the base unit and will be supervising the arrival and landing of the lab.
This is the third launch since the Chinese space station entered the construction phase. It was preceded by the Tianzhou-class cargo spacecraft and the Shenzhou-14 manned spacecraft.
China’s space program is run by the ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, which has led the United States to exclude it from the International Space Station. As a result, China has largely had to go it alone on its Tiangong space station program, building and then giving up two experimental stations before embarking on the final iteration.
The 23-ton laboratory unit is heavier than any single-module spacecraft currently in space, according to the state-owned Global Times.
China’s space program launched its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, making it only the third country to do so on its own after the former Soviet Union and the United States.
More must-read stories from TIME