China will launch its next manned space mission sometime between June and August, which will attempt to dock with an experimental module launched last year, state news agency Xinhua reported Friday.
It will be China’s fourth manned space mission since 2003, when astronaut Yang Liwei orbited Earth 14 times, becoming the country’s first man in space.
For the next mission, three astronauts will attempt to dock with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module, launched on September 29 as part of China’s exploratory preparations for a space lab, Xinhua said.
China has already carried out a successful docking test between an unnamed spacecraft and the Tiangong 1.
“The new space docking mission is… another chance for China to test its docking technology,” Xinhua cited an unnamed spokesman for China’s manned space programme as saying.
“The three crew members… will enter the Tiangong 1 vehicle to live and work there, conducting space science experiments,” it added, without elaborating.
China aims to have a fully fledged space station by about 2020.
However, it is still far from catching up with the established space superpowers: the United States and Russia.
Russia, the United States and other countries jointly operate the 400-tonne International Space Station, to which China does not belong.
But the United States will not test a new rocket to take people into space until 2017, and Russia has said manned missions are no longer a priority.
China also plans an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a moon rover. Scientists have raised the possibility of sending a man to the moon around 2020.