China on Tuesday launched its Shenzhou-8 unmanned spacecraft, which will dock with a laboratory module in outer space and set the stage for the building of the country's first space station.
The spacecraft was launched at 5.58 a.m. on Tuesday, carried into orbit on a Long March-2F rocket. The spacecraft would dock with the Tiangong-1 laboratory module, which was launched on September 29, within two days, said Chinese officials.
The launch of the Tiangong-1 laboratory module and the docking exercise have been seen as key landmarks for China's fast-expanding space programme and crucial steps in China's plans to become only the third nation, after the United States and Russia, to set up a space station by 2020.
Xinhua adds from Jiuquan:
Senior officials from the European Space Agency and the German Aerospace Centre were also invited for the launch at the Jiuquan centre.
The Chinese spacecraft has unprecedented collaborative space experiments under the framework of a Chinese-German science and technology cooperation.
German scientists designed bio-incubators for the experiments while the Chinese developed control equipment and apparatus connecting with the spacecraft. Shenzhou-8, with a length of nine metres and a maximum diameter of 2.8 metres, has a liftoff weight of 8.082 tonnes.