China plans to launch a cargo ship into space in 2016 to serve the Tiangong-2 space laboratory which is currently in orbit, a Chinese space scientist said on Sunday.
The cargo ship, named "Tianzhou" or "Heavenly Vessel" in Chinese, will be delivered by the newly-developed Long March-7 carrier rocket and dock with Tiangong-2 automatically, Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China's manned space program, told state-run Xinhua news agency.
Cargo transportation system that supplies goods and propellants is a key technology China must master to build its own space station, he said.
Tiangong-1, China's first space lab and target orbiter, was sent to orbit on September 29, 2011.
China is expected to launch the Tiangong-2 space lab around 2015.
"A manned spaceship has limited transportation capacity and costs highly," Zhou said ahead of the annual session of the advisory body, which is scheduled to open on Monday.
"A cargo ship will not return to the earth and does not need to carry people in its launching and docking processes, which make its transportation of goods more economical and efficient," he said.
The Tianzhou cargo ship can send supplies to the space station, including propellants, living necessities for astronauts and equipment for scientific research.
It can destroy various wasted materials, he said. It can also send large-sized facilities and equipment for the construction of the space station, he added.
Three cabin structures are being designed for the Tianzhou cargo ship, a fully-enclosed one, a semi-open one and a wholly-open one, he said.
The loading capacity of the cargo ship will reach the world-class level and will be even better than some developed countries, he said.
Researchers are busy developing the Long March-7 carrier rocket, which has a new-generation engine and uses harmless propellants.
It has a carrying capacity of more than 13 tonnes, he said.