We have lift off: Chinese chief mission commander Zhang Youxia salutes after announcing the successful launch of the Shenzhou-10 rocket. Photo: AFP
China has begun its longest manned space mission with the launch of the Shenzhou-10 rocket, state television showed, as the country steps up an ambitious exploration program symbolising its growing power.
The rocket ascended above the Jiuquan space centre in the Gobi Desert trailing a vast column of flame.
The three astronauts on board - who include Wang Yaping, 33, China's second woman in space - saluted cameras mounted inside their capsule and moments later the boosters detached from the rocket.
15-day mission: The Long March 2-F rocket loaded with Shenzhou-10 . Photo: Reuters
The crew are due to spend 15 days in orbit.
President Xi Jinping, fresh from a summit with US President Barack Obama, was on hand to watch the departure of the Shenzhou-10 - the name means "Divine Vessel" - exactly on time at 9.38 GMT (7.38pm AEST) on Tuesday.
Beijing sees the multibillion-dollar space program as a marker of its rising global stature and mounting technical expertise, as well as the ruling Communist Party's success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.
The program is heavily promoted to the domestic audience, and state broadcaster CCTV began continuous coverage several hours before the launch.
The Shenzhou-10 will dock with the Tiangong-1 - "Heavenly Palace" - space laboratory, and the crew will transfer into it and carry out medical and space technology experiments.
China first sent a human into space only in 2003 and its capabilities still lag behind the US and Russia. But its program is highly ambitious and includes plans to land a man on the moon and build a station orbiting earth by 2020.
Independent space analyst Morris Jones, who is based in Sydney, said: "I think the fact that they're flying a very long and complex mission shows that China's astronaut program has reached a full degree of maturity.
"They are very steadily laying the groundwork that they will need to build their own space station."
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