China's next manned space mission will launch between June and August, carrying three astronauts to an experimental space module, says a report.
This was China's latest part of an ambitious plan to build a space station, media said on Thursday.
The Shenzhou 10 and its crew will launch from a remote site in the Gobi desert and then link up with the Tiangong 1 module, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Chinese astronauts carried out a manned docking with the module for the first time last June.
Rendezvous and docking exercises between the two vessels are an important hurdle in China's efforts to acquire the technological and logistical skills to run a full space lab that can house astronauts for long periods.
China is still far from catching up with the established space superpowers, Russia and the US. The Tiangong 1 is a trial module, not the building block of a space station.
But this year's mission will be the latest show of China's growing prowess in space and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back US-manned space launches.
It will be China's fifth manned space mission since 2003 when astronaut Yang Liwei became the country's first person in orbit.
China also plans to work on an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a moon rover. Scientists have raised the possibility of sending a man to the moon, but not before 2020.
First Chinese woman in space
In June 2012 China sent the first Chinese woman into space, aboard the Shenzou 9. Liu Yang (33) said she was doing it on behalf of hundreds of millions of Chinese women.
The Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, carrying a total of three taikonauts — the Chinese term for professional space travellers — departed from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the north-western province of Gansu. President Hu Jintao, speaking from Denmark where he was on a state visit, congratulated all participants.
Wu Bangguo, the official number two in China’s ruling Communist Party, was present for take-off and wished them a “successful return.”
Shenzhou 9 spent 13 days in space, the Xinhua news agency reported. The crew performed manned docking manoeuvres and set up a simple space laboratory by linking with the Tiangong-1 orbital capsule.
Two of the taikonauts crossed into Tiangong-1, or Palace of Heaven, where they spent a total of 10 days carrying out scientific and technical experiments as well as physical tests. Among other things, Liu tested Chinese space equipment designed for women.
Joining a proud list the mission was seen as an important step to developing a larger Chinese space station, to be completed by the year 2020.
Counting Liu, more than 50 women from eight countries have travelled into space. Shenzhou-9 is China’s fourth manned trip into space, an enterprise involving far higher risks and security provisions than unmanned space travel. Beijing’s space operation centre has developed more than 700 contingency plans, Xinhua reported. – Reuters