JIUQUAN, China, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- China's space agency successfully launched its second orbital module, Tiangong-2, on Thursday evening, local time.
The module was attached to a Long March 7 rocket and launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northern China -- part of the Dongfeng Aerospace City on the edge of the Gobi Desert.
Tiangong-2, originally built as a backup to Tiangong-1, was scheduled to be launched as early as late 2013, but a series of successful missions to the first Tiangong module delayed plans for the second. Tiangong-1 was taken out of service earlier this year.
Once in orbit, Chinese astronauts will be able to dock and board Tiangong-2 for 30-day missions.
Construction and testing of Tiangong-2 was completed earlier this summer at an aerospace facility in Beijing. The module was transported to Dongfeng by train.
"The completion of the transfer signals that the space lab Tiangong-2 mission has entered its launching stage," officials with China's manned space program said in a news release earlier this week.
According to the space agency, the new module will serve as host to a variety scientific experiments in "aerospace medicine, space sciences, on-orbit maintenance and space station technologies."
Tiangong-2 is expected to pave the way for the Tianhe Space Station Core Module -- China's answer to the International Space Station -- which is set to launch in 2018.
The first mission to board the new module will be Shenzhou-11, a two-person crew scheduled to launch in October. Another two-person crew, Shenzhou-12, will follow. A possible resupply mission is scheduled for April 2016.