The manned spacecraft launched by China on Monday (17 October) morning from the Gobi desert has successfully completed its docking with the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab early on Wednesday, 19 October. The two astronauts on board the Shenzhou-11 monitored and reported the automated docking operation.

The Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) said the spacecraft began to approach the Tiangong-2 space lab automatically at 1.11am Beijing time on Wednesday (6.11pm BST on Tuesday) and made contact with the space lab at 3.24am. The spacecraft docked at 3.31am, the centre added.

Sun Jun, deputy chief engineer of BACC, told China's official news agency Xinhua that the mission required a higher precision for the orbit prediction and automated docking calculation, compared to previous docking missions.

Following the docking, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, the two astronauts enter the space lab and stay there for the next 30 days conducting various experiments as per their mission schedule.

China is the third country in the world, after the US and Russia, to successfully complete space missions and docking procedures. The Shenzhou-11 spacecraft is China's sixth manned space vessel and it is now on the longest-ever space mission for China.

China had sent the Tiangong-2 space lab into space on 15 September, marking a major achievement in the country's space mission. Xinhua reported that the space station is regarded as China's first space lab "in the strict sense". The Tiangong-2 is seen as a key step in building a permanent space station, hopefully by 2020.

Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft china
The Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft carrying astronauts Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong successfully docked at the orbiting Tiangong-2 space lab early on Wednesday, 19 October Reuters