China plans to send a spacecraft carrying three astronauts up to the core module of its new space station for the first time on Thursday.
The launch of the first crewed mission to the Chinese outpost, which is under construction, is scheduled for 9:22 am (0122 GMT), the Chinese space agency announced at a press conference on Wednesday.
Chinese astronauts Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo are scheduled to launch from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert and stay on the core module of the new station for three months.
The flight programme is planned on a tight schedule, with the next resupply flight set to launch in September. The last cargo flight with materials and fuel was sent in late May.
Three more astronauts will follow in October.
The Tianhe core module of the Tiangong space station, which is due to be completed by the end of 2022, was sent into space at the end of April.
To complete the space station, two more laboratory modules, each weighing some 20 tons, will also be launched into space. Two more cargo flights and two manned missions are planned in 2022.
If the International Space Station (ISS) ceases to operate as is planned in the next few years, China will be the only country still operating a permanent outpost in space.(dpa/NAN)