China's Shenzhou-18 mission took off for Tiangong space station

The crew of three astronauts on China's Shenzhou-18 mission took off aboard a rocket bound for the Tiangong space station, state media reported.

It is the latest mission in Beijing's space programme, which aims to send astronauts to the moon by 2030.

The crew blasted off in a spacecraft atop a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 8:59 p.m. local time (12:59 p.m. GMT), AFP reported.

The mission is being led by Ye Guangfu, a fighter pilot and astronaut who was previously part of the Shenzhou-13 crew in 2021.

He is joined by astronauts Li Cong and Li Guangsu, who are heading into space for the first time.

They plan to stay on the Tiangong space station for six months.

While there, they plan to conduct experiments "in fundamental physics under microgravity conditions, space material science, space life science, space medicine and space technology", the China Manned Spaceflight Agency said.

The new crew will replace the Shenzhou-17 team that was sent to the station in October.

Plans for China's "space dream" were put into full swing under President Xi Jinping.

The world's second-largest economy has poured billions of dollars into its military space programme to catch up with the US and Russia.

Beijing also aims to send a manned mission to the moon by 2030 and plans to build a base on the lunar surface.

Since 2011, when the US banned NASA from cooperating with the country, China has been virtually shut out of the International Space Station, forcing Beijing to develop its own orbital outpost. / BGNES