China to build its own space station
China has announced ambitious plans to build its own space station, which it hopes will be operational by the end of the decade.
More than half-a-century after the space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union, China has poured billions into its own space programme in competition with India.
If everything goes according to plan, China will send a man to the moon by 2025 according to Ye Peijin, the commander in chief of the Chang'e (lunar landing) programme.
Plans are also afoot to send probes to both Mars and Venus.
The plan for a 60-ton, three-module space station is the third and final phase of Project 921, a project that began in 1992 and which has already seen China become the third country to launch a man into space. In 2008, China carried out its first space walk, which was broadcast live to a huge audience on national television.
The space station, whose name will be picked by a public competition, will consist of a core module with two laboratory units, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.
It will be around one-fifth of the length of the International Space Station, currently the only other space station in orbit, and one-seventh of the weight, according to specifications released by China's Manned Space Engineering Office.
"The 60-ton space station is rather small compared to the International Space Station (419 tons), and Russia's Mir Space Station (137 tons) which served between 1996 and 2001," said Pang Zhihao, a researcher and deputy editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine, Space International.
"But it is only the world's third multi-module space station, which usually demands much more complicated technology than a single-module space lab," he said.
Separately, China has announced that its army chief of staff will visit the United States in May.
"I will visit the United States next month at the invitation of Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Chen Bingde, chief of staff at the People's Liberation Army, was quoted as saying by the state Xinhua news agency.
Mr Chen told a visiting US Congress delegation: "I look forward to having an in-depth and candid discussion with US political and military leaders on bilateral military relations and other issues of common concern."