China will soon have two space laboratories in service and is selecting engineers to join its third batch of astronauts, a senior space official said on Friday.
"The Tiangong-1 space lab is in good condition, its equipment is functioning normally and fuel is sufficient for further operations," Wang Zhaoyao, director of the China Manned Space Agency, told a news conference in Beijing on the third anniversary of the Tiangong-1 mission.
"We will closely monitor the lab's condition and arrange experiments for it so that its lifespan can be extended for as long as possible."
Wang said scientists believe that Tiangong-1 is capable of working in space for a considerable period, long enough to await the launch of and cooperation with Tiangong-2, which is due to be put into orbit in 2016.
"Our scientists and engineers are planning some experiments and tests to be performed by the two space labs," Wang said.
He Yu, head of the space laboratory systems research team, said equipment on Tiangong-1 has been so reliable and stable in the past three years that there has been no need to activate backup equipment.
"Our engineers had to shut down the main equipment so that they could test the backups," He said.
Tiangong-1 was launched in September 2011 with a designated lifespan of two years. It has successfully conducted six automatic and astronaut-controlled dockings with the Shenzhou-VIII, Shenzhou-IX and Shenzhou-X spacecraft.
The space lab is evidence of the nation's technology in designing, manufacturing, managing and controlling the low-orbit, long-life manned spacecraft, Wang said.
Zhou Jianping, chief designer of the manned space programme, told Xinhua News Agency that the next major step is the launch of Tiangong-2. After this, China's first cargo spacecraft, Tianzhou, will be sent to serve Tiangong-2.
He said Tiangong-2 will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
It is planned to send the Tianzhou cargo vehicle into space atop the Long March 7 rocket - which is under development - from the new Wenchang Launch Center in Hainan province.
If all goes well, the nation will launch the core module of its space station in 2018, and the station will become fully operational around 2022, Wang said.