BEIJING, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) -- China has formally begun its manned space station program, aiming to complete construction of a "relatively large" manned space laboratory around 2020, said a spokesman for the national manned space program.
China was aiming to develop and launch the first part of a space laboratory before 2016, focusing on breakthroughs in living conditions for astronauts and research applications, the spokesman said.
The country would develop and launch a core cabin and a second laboratory module around 2020, which would be assembled in orbit around the earth into a manned space station, he said.
"Technologies needed to build and run the space station complex and long-term manned space flight in terrestrial space will be grasped," the spokesman said.
He said the project would build on the achievements of previous projects and continue to use the Shenzhou spacecraft and Long March F carrier rocket, and their launch and landing sites.
"After the construction of the space station, China's three-step manned space program will be complete," he said, adding this would enhance the country's technological progress, innovation, comprehensive power and the nation's prestige.
The three-step strategy involved first developing the Shenzhou spaceships, and then technologies needed for docking and extra-vehicular activities, currently underway, and finally construction of the space station.
China planned to launch two unmanned space modules, Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou-8, in 2011, which were expected to accomplish the country's first space docking and were regarded as an essential step toward building a space station.
Tiangong-1, or Heavenly Palace, would eventually be transformed into a manned space laboratory after experimental dockings with Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft, with the last two carrying two or three astronauts each.