China to launch next manned spaceship in 2013

China's first female astronaut Liu Yang waves during a sending-off ceremony as she departs for the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft rocket launch pad (16 June 2012) China's first female astronaut returned from her mission in late June

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China plans to launch its next manned space mission in June next year, state media reports.

A senior official in charge of the manned space programme said the three-person crew could be made up of a woman and two men.

China became only the third country to independently send a person into space in 2003, after the US and Russia.

The launch plan follows the flight of the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft, which returned to Earth in late June.

The Shenzhou 9 took part in the country's first manual space docking mission, a major milestone in China's ambitious space programme.

It also carried China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang.

According to Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of the manned space programme, next year's mission could happen as early as June, but back-up launch windows have been identified for July or August.

China plans to develop a full orbiting space station by 2020 and has also raised the possibility of sending a man to the moon.

There has been discussion of China joining the International Space Station project, but this is considered unlikely given political tensions between Beijing and Washington.

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