Two unmanned Chinese spacecraft have docked successfully and are orbiting the Earth together in a step towards China having its own manned space station.
The Shenzhou-8 craft that was launched on Tuesday docked with the already orbiting Tiangong-1 module, said Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's manned space programme. The assembly had orbited Earth several times, with onboard instruments working normally, she said.
The US and Russia are the only other countries to have mastered space docking. It was "a milestone success and sets a sound foundation for continued missions", Wu said.
The joint assembly will fly for another 12 days doing tests, then a second docking will be followed by two days' flight. Shenzhou-8 is scheduled to return to Earth on 17 November.
"Our aim is to try our best to perform multiple tests within one launch so as to maximise our benefits through limited launches," Wu said.
China launched its own space station programme after being turned away in its repeated attempts to join the 16-nation International Space Station – largely because the United States is wary of the Chinese space programme's military links.
Experts see no explicit military function for the Chinese space station. more