(Reuters) – China's next manned space mission will launch sometime between June and August, carrying three astronauts to an experimental space module, state media said on Thursday, the latest part of an ambitious plan to build a space station.

Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (C), Liu Wang (R) and Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, wave in front of a picture of the first astronaut Yang Liwei during a departure ceremony at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province, June 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee

The Shenzhou 10 and its crew will launch from a remote site in the Gobi desert and then link up with the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1 module, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Chinese astronauts carried out a manned docking with the module for the first time last June.

Rendezvous and docking exercises between the two vessels are an important hurdle in China's efforts to acquire the technological and logistical skills to run a full space lab that can house astronauts for long periods.

China is still far from catching up with the established space superpowers, the United States and Russia. The Tiangong 1 is a trial module, not the building block of a space station.

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