China on Thursday began an eight-hour countdown to the launch of its Tiangong-1 space laboratory module.
The unmanned Tiangong-1, which translates to Heavenly Palace, will blast-off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi desert in northwest China. Tiangong-1 is set to take off at around 9 p.m. local time, according to China's space agency.
Tiangong-1 stands 10.4 meters tall and weighs 8.5 tons. It comprises two modules, one of which will eventually house astronauts
The launch was originally set for Tuesday but that was hampered by poor weather at the launch center, forcing officials to reschedule the date pending better weather.
When launched, Tiangong-1 will remain in orbit on a two-year mission, during which time it will dock with three spacecrafts - Shenzhou 8, Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10. The completion of unmanned docking procedures is necessary for China's plans of establishing a 60-ton manned space station by the year 2020.
The main mission of Tiangong 1 is to provide a target vehicle for space meeting points and docking experiment as well as establish a manned space test platform capable of long-term unmanned operations in space, explained China's Manned Space Engineering Office spokeswoman Wu Ping.
China made its first successful manned flight in 2003, with the Shenzhou spacecraft and in 2008 became only the third country to send an astronaut on a spacewalk.
It is planning to put a capsule on the moon in 2013 and possess the technology for a manned mission by 2020, according to Xu Shijie, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, who spoke on March 3 in Beijing. The country also plans to launch its own orbital station by around 2020.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei spoke of the government's peaceful intentions, saying that the country aimed to contribute to peaceful utilization of space for the benefit of all human kind.