China launches its first space laboratory

Last updated at 12:42
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A 3D animation of the Tiangong-1 space module

China has launched its first space laboratory into orbit.

The laboratory, called the Tiangong-1, was sent in a rocket from the north of China this afternoon.

It's set to fly around Earth just a few hundred kilometres above its surface, but it will be a few hours before experts can tell if it's in the right place.

The spacecraft is unmanned and monitored from the ground.

Chinese astronauts, who are also known as yuhangyuans, are expected to visit it next year.

Another unmanned spacecraft will be launched in a few weeks and it will try and link up with the first laboratory.

Tiangong means "heavenly palace" in Chinese.

The launch is part of China's programme to build a 60-tonne space station by 2020.

The country is planning two manned space missions next year and it hopes two or three astronauts will live aboard the two spacecraft for up to two weeks.