The Tianhe module – which contains living quarters for crew members – was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on a Long March-5Brocket.
China hopes to have the new station operational by 2022. The only space station currently in orbit is the International Space Station, from which China is excluded.
China has been a late starter when it comes to space exploration. It was only in 2003 that it sent its first astronaut into orbit, making it the third country to do so, after the Soviet Union and the US.
The new, 66-tonne, multi-module Tiangong station is set to be operational for at least ten years.
Tianhe is the core component of it. It is 16.6m long and 4.2m wide. It will provide power and propulsion and contain life support technologies and living quarters required by visiting astronauts.
Beijing plans to have at least ten more similar launches, carrying all the additional equipment into orbit, before the station’s completion next year. It will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450km (210-280 miles).
The only current space station in orbit is the ISS, which collaborates between Russia, the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan. China has been blocked from participating in it.
The ISS is due to be retired after 2024, potentially leaving Tiangong as the only space station in Earth’s orbit.