BEIJING - China said on Wednesday it would launch a space lab to be manned for long stretches within about 10 years, a move it believes would bring it closer to the United States and Russia as powers capable of reaching the moon.
The official Xinhua news agency, quoting an unidentified space official, said a trial space lab would be launched before 2016 to test equipment and techniques. But it was not clear if that lab would be manned for long periods.
The space station programme will use existing technology, including the Shenzhou space vehicle and the Long March 2F launch rocket, Xinhua said. The agency gave no details of the size of the planned labs.
Establishing a manned space lab will "promote our country's scientific and technological progress and innovation, enhance overall national strength and make an important contribution to raising national prestige", the official said.
While the initiative is unlikely to rival the size of the International Space Station jointly operated by Russia, the United States and other countries, it is the latest sign of China's growing space technology ability.
China launched its second moon orbiter this month after it became only the third country to send its astronaunts walking in space outside their orbiting craft in 2008.
China plans an unmanned moon landing and deployment of a moon rover in 2012, and the retrieval of lunar soil and stone samples around 2017. Scientists have talked about the possibility of sending a man to the moon after 2020.
China is jostling with neighbours Japan and India for a bigger presence in outer space, but its plans have faced international scrutiny. Beijing says its space aims are peaceful.
Fears of a space arms race with the United States and other powers mounted after China blew up one of its own weather satellites with a ground-based missile in January 2007. (Reporting by Sabrina Mao and Chris Buckley; Editing by Clement Tan)
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