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People watch the Long March-5B Y2 rocket carrying the core module of China's space station, Tianhe, blasting off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang, Hainan Province, on Thursday. Photo: Wang Longhua/VCG via Getty Images

Officials in China launched the core element of a new permanent space station into orbit on a Long March-5B Y2 rocket from Wenchang in Hainan Province, Thursday, per the BBC.

Why it matters: The launch from Wenchang Space Launch Center marks a significant step in the space program drive of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, seen as a rival to the U.S. in space.

  • China's government is excluded from the International Space Station program — the only space station in orbit.

Of note: The module, called Tianhe, or Harmony of the Heavens, is the first component launched.

  • Scientists in China had made use of two smaller test stations in orbit that hosted crew before moving on to this more complex design, Axios' Miriam Kramer notes.

What to watch: The goal is to have the Chinese Space Station operational by the end of next year, Space.com reports.

Flashback: The big picture on China's space station that fell out of the sky

Go deeper

China's homegrown techlash

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

With the Chinese government accelerating moves against its own tech industry, China is — for now — prioritizing Communist Party control of the domestic economy over aggressive international competition.

Why it matters: China and the U.S. are both playing a long game, with tech as the playing field, companies as the pieces and domination of the global economy as the stakes.

America can't quit polarizing politicians

Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New data finds that the nation's most polarizing politicians are often the ones that garner the most attention online.

Why it matters: Online engagement helps politicians build a bigger national profile and more fundraising power, incentivizing them be more outrageous, more polarizing and more divisive.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
37 mins ago - Science

It's time to take reproduction in space seriously

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Before humans can settle off-Earth, scientists need to figure out how — or even whether — people can reproduce in space.

Why it matters: Powerful figures in the space industry like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have dreams of a future where millions of people live in space, which would naturally require a self-sustaining population of humans somewhere other than Earth.