China to launch next manned spaceship in 2013

image captionChina's first female astronaut returned from her mission in late June

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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