The Tianzhou 1 blasted off at 7.41pm local time on Thursday on the top of a latest-generation Long March 7 rocket from China's newest spacecraft launch site, Wenchang on the island province of Hainan.
It is programmed to conduct scientific experiments after reaching the now-crewless Tiangong 2, China's second space station. Two Chinese astronauts spent 30 days on board the station last year.
China launched the Tiangong 2 precursor facility in September and the station's core module will be launched next year.
Communications with the earlier, disused Tiangong 1 experimental station were cut last year and it is expected to burn up on entering the atmosphere.
A mission to land another rover on Mars and bring back samples is set to launch in 2020, while China also plans to become the first country to soft-land a probe on the far side of the moon.