China launched its latest manned space mission on Monday, taking two astronauts into orbit where they will spend a month aboard an experimental space laboratory that is part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.
The Shenzhou-11 blasted off on a Long March rocket at 2330 GMT from the remote launch site in Jiuquan, in the Gobi desert, in images carried live on state television.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) October 16, 2016
"This mission is characterised by its longer duration and more tests," Chen Dong, the junior astronaut on the mission, told reporters in a televised news conference.
"We will focus on improving our ability to handle emergencies in orbit, medical first aid, mutual rescue capabilities and space experiments."
— SpaceFlight Insider (@SpaceflightIns) October 16, 2016
The spacecraft, whose name translates as "Divine Vessel", will also carry three experiments designed by Hong Kong middle school students and selected in a science competition, including one that will take silk worms into space.
The astronauts - Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong - will dock with the Tiangong 2 space laboratory, where they will spend about a month.
China launched its second experimental space lab Tiangong 2, or "Heavenly Palace 2", last month.
While China to date has focused on near-Earth space exploration, future missions will be bigger and go farther than 400 km, said Zhang Yulin, an official with the space program and the Central Military Commission.
President Xi Jinping has called for China to establish itself as a space power, and it has tested anti-satellite missiles, in addition to its civilian aims.
China says its space program is for peaceful purposes, but the US Defence Department has highlighted its increasing capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed to prevent adversaries from using space-based assets in a crisis.