China is a step closer to becoming a major space power with the launch of its unmanned spacecraft Shenzhou 8. The craft is expected to dock with another vehicle, launched last month, in an unprecedented operation for the communist state.
The spacecraft took off from a base in the far western city of Jiuquan. Minutes later, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the launch was successful, citing the head of China’s space program, Chang Wanquan.
China is planning to send a manned mission into orbit as early as next year, and to build a complete space station by 2020.
China launched its own space station program after being rebuffed in its attempts to join the 16-nation International Space Station, largely on objections from the United States.