China will launch a manned spacecraft between June and August on a mission to take three astronauts to the Tiangong-1 module currently orbiting the Earth, state media reported Friday.
The trio will blast off on board the Shenzhou (“Divine Vessel”) IX which will manually dock with the module, Xinhua news agency said, quoting a spokesman for China’s manned space programme.
After the space rendezvous, the astronauts will move temporarily into the Tiangong-1 (“Heavenly Palace”), where they will perform scientific experiments.
The mission is the latest step in a programme aimed at giving China a permanent space station by 2020.
In November, an unmanned Shenzhou VIII spacecraft returned to Earth after completing two space dockings with Tiangong-1 in the nation’s first ever hard-to-master “space kiss”, bringing together two vessels in high speed orbit.
Mastering space docking technology is a delicate manoeuvre that the Russians and Americans successfully completed in the 1960s.
Tiangong-1, China’s first space station module, was launched in September.
China sees its space programme as a symbol of its global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
The current programme aims to provide China with a space station in which a crew can live independently for several months, as at the old Russian Mir facility or the International Space Station.