China said Wednesday that it planned to complete a manned space station around 2020, as the Asian nation pushes ahead with its ambitious space exploration programme.
China's Manned Space Engineering Project announced in a statement that it expected to launch a space laboratory before 2016 to study key technology involved in a space station, such as living conditions for astronauts.
The country would then develop and launch a core cabin and a second laboratory module around 2020, which would be assembled in orbit into a space station, it added.
The station would study technologies involved in long-term manned space flights, the statement said.
China had already announced plans to launch two unmanned modules next year, which are expected to undergo the nation's first space docking -- an essential step towards building the space station.
These steps are all part of the nation's ambitious space exploration programme, which experts say it wants to put on a par with those of the United States and Russia.
China sees the programme as a symbol of its global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the formerly poverty-stricken nation.
The nation became only the third in the world to put a man in space independently -- after the United States and Russia -- when Yang Liwei piloted the one-man Shenzhou-5 space mission in 2003.
And in September 2008, the Shenzhou-7, piloted by three astronauts, carried out China's first space walk.
China has also made strides in lunar exploration, aiming to become the second country to put a man on the moon.
It launched its second lunar probe on October 1, hopes to bring a moon rock sample back to Earth in 2017, and has planned a manned mission to the moon for around 2020, according to state media.
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