Striking Photos Show China Launching First Part of Its Own New Space Station

China launched the core module of its first permanent space station on Thursday, marking a new beginning for the country's ambitious new space program that will orbit astronauts long-term.

Located on the southern island province of Hainan, the Wenchang Launch Center blasted the Tianhe, or "Heavenly Harmony," module into space atop a Long March 5B rocket, while crowds of people watched.

Striking photos of the event showed the module—which is equipped with living quarters for three astronauts to live for up to six months at a time—taking off for the first time.

China Space Station
People watch a Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, as it lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province on April 29. STR/AFP/Getty Images

The Tianhe launch is the first in a series of 11 missions that will be necessary to develop the new space station. China hopes to have the station complete by 2022, following 18 months of construction in low Earth orbit, according to CNet.

The station will serve as a research outpost for China for at least 10 years and will be the only other operational space base outside of the International Space Station, which China is excluded from.

China launches a rocket carrying the core module for a planned space station into orbit. It can provide electricity, propulsion and accommodate three astronauts for up to six months.

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China Space Station Rocket
A Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province on April 29, 2021. STR/AFP/Getty Images

During the launch, the Tianhe could be seen with the characters for "China Manned Space" written on its exterior, the Associated Press reported. The event was a huge source of national pride, with top civilian and military leaders watching the launch live from the control center in Beijing.

A band could also be seen playing music with the rocket behind it, while crowds of people gathered nearby to watch the historic feat.

China Space Station launch music
A band plays music as a Long March 5B rocket, which carries China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in southern China's Hainan province on April 29. STR/AFP/Getty Images

Head of the ruling Communist Party President Xi Jinping read a message of congratulations to those that participated in the event. In his remarks, Xi said that the successful launch now means that China's space station construction has entered the full implementation stage, China Daily reported.

The launch marks "an important leading project for constructing a powerful country in science and technology and aerospace," Xi added, according to the AP.

China Space Station Launch, Crowds
People watch a Long March 5B rocket, which carries China's Tianhe space station core module, lifting off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in southern China's Hainan province on April 29. STR/AFP/Getty Images

At least 12 astronauts are now training to fly to and live in the station, with the first crewed mission, Shenzhou-12, expected to be launched by June, the AP reported.

If successfully completed by 2022, the new space station is expected to be considerably smaller than the International Space Station, weighing just 66 tons, compared to 450 tons for the ISS.

STR/AFP
People watch a Long March 5B rocket, which carries China's Tianhe space station core module, lifting off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, in southern China's Hainan province on April 29. Getty Images

The country began working on the space station in 1992. Over a decade later, the nation put its first astronaut into space in October 2003, becoming the third country to do so after the Soviet Union and U.S.

China has previously sent two short-term trial space stations into orbit, the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, but Thursday's launch marks the country's first attempt at a long-term station.

Chen Lan, an analyst who specializes in China's space program, said the new project is a "big deal" for the country moving forward.

"This will be the largest international space co-operation project for China, so it's significant," he said, according to the BBC.

Newsweek contacted the China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for additional comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.

China Space Station rocket launch
A Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province on April 29. STR/AFP/Getty Images