BEIJING, March 3 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese senior space technology expert said Thursday that China is expected to launch its first space laboratory before 2016.
"With the technological program ready, the lab's research and development are going smoothly," Qi Faren, former chief designer of Shenzhou spaceships, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
As the second phase of China's manned space program, the lab, likely to be named Tiangong-2, will gradually be developed into the core module or experiment module, said Qi.
China is to launch its first unmanned space module, Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, in the second half of 2011, serving as a platform for spacecraft to rendezvous and dock -- allowing for the building of the space station.
China will have its own space station before 2020, said Qi, a member of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, before the annual session of the country's top political advisory body, which is scheduled to open Thursday.
Special Report: NPC, CPPCC Annual Sessions 2011