Beijing: China launched on Thursday an experimental spacecraft which will eventually lead to the establishment of its first space station. It will then become one of the three nations in the world, along with the United States and Russia, to have developed an independent capability to construct, launch and maintain a long-term manned outpost in space.
The Tiangong 1, or "Heavenly Palace", blasted off from a remote site in the Gobi Desert at 9:16 pm (1316 GMT), just a day or so ahead of China's National Day celebrations on 1 October.
In an event that was telecast live the entire nation watched as the small, unmanned "space lab" was taken into orbit by a Long March rocket under clear skies.
It is the latest example of China's growing capabilities in the field of space exploration, and comes even as budget restraints curb activities of nations with more developed capabilities.