China has taken the next step in its quest to become a major space power with the launch of the unmanned Shenzhou 8 vehicle.
The spacecraft rode a Long March 2F rocket into orbit where it will attempt to rendezvous and dock with the Tiangong-1 lab, launched in September.
It would be the first time China has joined two space vehicles together.
The capability is required if the country is to carry through its plan to build a space station by about 2020.
The Long March carrier rocket lifted away from the Jiuquan spaceport in the Gobi Desert at 05:58, Tuesday (21:58 GMT Monday). TV cameras relayed the ascent to orbit.
It will be a couple of days before Shenzhou 8 is in a position to attempt the docking
Shenzhou separated from the rocket's upper-stage about nine minutes into the flight. Confirmation that its solar panels had been deployed was received a short while after.
It will be a couple of days before Shenzhou is in a position to attempt the docking, which will occur some 340km above the Earth.
The vehicles will be using radar and optical sensors to compute their proximity to each other and guide their final approach and contact.
The pair will then spend 12 days circling the globe together before moving apart and attempting a re-docking. Finally, Shenzhou 8 will detach and its return capsule will head back to Earth.
This will allow experiments carried into orbit to be recovered for analysis. The German space agency has supplied an experimental box containing fish, plants, worms, bacteria and even human cancer cells for a series of biological studies.