China's test fires a Long March 5 carrier rocket earlier this year. Soon it will launch its first reusable rocket. Photo: AFP

On Thursday night, China’s space program took a critical step when they launched the country’s first ever cargo spaceship. The success of the ship’s mission is essential to realizing Beijing’s goals of launching a manned space station in 2022, reports the Financial Times.

The ship, dubbed Tianzhou-1, will attempt to dock with China’s Tiangong II space lab and conduct in-orbit refueling.

Should China succeed in their space station goals, they will be the only game in town come 2028. That is when NASA’s International Space Station is scheduled to retire.

“After our space station is launched, then if the US or Russia needs to do space research, then we can say, ‘sorry, you will have to contact China and cooperate with us’,” the Financial Times quoted Peking University professor Jiao Weixin as saying.