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China launches cargo rocket with supplies for space station

An automated cargo rocket carrying supplies for China’s new space station blasted off Saturday from an island in the South China Sea.

A Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tianzhou-2 took off at 8:50 p.m. (1250 GMT) from the Wenchang launch center on Hainan Island, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Tianzhou-2 carried fuel and supplies for the Tianhe space station, state media reported earlier. The station’s core module was launched into orbit April 29.

The Chinese space agency says 11 launches are planned through the end of next year to deliver two more modules for the 70-ton space station, supplies and its three-member crew.

China was criticized for allowing part of the rocket that launched the Tianhe to fall back to Earth uncontrolled earlier this month. There was no indication about what Beijing planned to do with the rocket from Saturday’s launch.

The Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, is the third and largest orbital station launched by China’s increasingly ambitious space program.

Beijing doesn’t participate in the International Space Station, largely due to U.S. objections. Washington is wary of the secrecy surrounding the Chinese program and its military connections.