Chinese Astronauts Dock With Tiangong-1 Space Lab (PICTURES)

Chinese astronauts have succesfully docked with the country's Tiangong-1 space lab in orbit around Earth.

The mission is by some distance China's most advanced space mission yet.

Three Chinese astronauts ('taikonauts') blasted off from Inner Mongolia on Monday, carried inside a Shenzhou-10 capsule aboard a Long March 2F rocket.

The successful launch marked the start of China's fifth manned mission in space.

Chinese media now says the capsule has successfully docked with the Tiangong-1 space laboratory, which has been in orbit around Earth since 2011.

The docking was completed automatically, but manned docking tests will also be conducted during the taikonauts' stay.

The space lab is principally designed to test docking and navigation systems. Just 10.5 metres long and 4.5 metres wide, it contains scientific instruments and life support systems, but is not intended to be a permanent Chinese outpost in space.

But the team of three astronauts will spend up to two weeks at the lab, with events planned including a televised lesson for students on Earth led by Wang Yaping, the second Chinese woman in space.

Two of the taikonauts will sleep aboard the module, with a third in the capsule.

China eventually wants to build a permanent space station of its own, and has said it wants to start by the end of the decade.