Tianhe-1, the first of three 20-tonne space station modules, was completed by the end of 2016 and has entered a testing phase, according to Bao Weimin of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
Tianhe-1 will launch from Wenchang on a new Long March 5heavy-lift rocket sometime in 2018, which was developed specifically to allow China to put large space station modules into low Earth orbit.
Bao explained that once in orbit at 393 kilometres above the Earth, the core module would be manoeuvred in order to avoid the larger pieces of space debris, and carry shielding to protect it from smaller, untrackable objects.
Above: Rendering of the Tianhe-1 Chinese Space Station core module (CMSA).
Travelling at orbital speeds of around 7 km per second, even tiny pieces of space junk pose a huge threat to spacecraft, as demonstrated by damage to a window on the International Space Station.
The Tianhe module will also feature life support systems including the ability to recycle a high rate of water from respiration and excretion.
The Chinese Space Station (CSS) will also be refuelled and resupplied by Tianzhou cargo spacecraft, the first of which will launch in April on a Long March 7 rocket in order to test on-orbit propellant resupply with the Tiangong-2 testbed space lab.
Above: Tianzhou-1 undergoing testing at the AIT centre in Tianjin, North China.
Bao also told Xinhua (Chinese) that from 2018 to the completion, the CSS project will require more than a dozen launches, likely meant to include Shenzhou crewed missions to the facility.
Two experiment modules named Wentian and Mengtian, also with a mass of 20 tonnes, will follow into orbit via Long March 5 rocckets. Smooth progress would see the CSS completed around 2022.
The two science modules will feature experiment racks focusing on the areas of space life sciences and biotechnology, microgravity fluid physics and combustion, material science in space, fundamental physics in microgravity and other multi-purpose uses.
Above: A control moment gyroscope for controlling the orientation of the Chinese Space Station (CAST).
The CSS will feature two 30-metre solar panels and two robotic arms for construction, repair and docking.
Also expected to be part of the CSS is a free-flying space telescope with a two-metre mirror, dubbed 'China's Hubble'.
The Xuntian module is expected to provide a level of resolution no less than the famous Hubble space telescope, but with a field of view 300 times larger.
Above: An illustration of China's Xuntian space telescope.
Cooperation in space
China last year signed an agreement with the United Nationsto open its future space station to spacecraft, science experiments and even astronauts from countries around the world, particularly from developing nations.
Last month the China Manned Space Agency also signed a deal with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to cooperate on long-term human spaceflight, potentially combining Italy's experience with the ISS and China's future CSS facilities.
China began its human spaceflight programme in 1992, and in 2003 became only the third country to independently put astronauts in space, after the United States and Russia (and Soviet Union).
The CSS is the ultimate goal of 'Project 921', which China aims to keep permanently crewed with 3-6 astronauts for at least a decade.