Two unmanned Chinese spacecraft have docked above Earth successfully, moving China one step closer to setting up its own space station.
The Shenzhou 8 craft that was launched on Tuesday docked with the already orbiting Tiangong-1 module, said Wu Ping, spokeswoman for China's manned space programme.
The US and Russia are the only other countries to master the space docking technique. It is "a milestone success and sets a sound foundation for continued missions", Ms Wu said. The assembly has already orbited Earth six times with onboard instruments working normally, Ms Wu said.
China launched its own space station programme after being turned away in its repeated attempts to join the 16-nation International Space Station. That was largely on objections from the United States, which is wary of the Chinese space programme's military links. Experts see no explicit military function for the Chinese space station.
In terms of technology, the launch of the Tiangong-1 places China about where the US was in the 1960s during the Gemini programme. But experts say China is progressing further than the US did with each launch it undertakes.
President Hu Jintao praised the docking in a message from France en route to the Group of 20 economic summit. Premier Wen Jiabao and other top officials watched the docking from an aerospace centre in Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
China plans two more space missions - at least one of them manned - to meet up with the Tiangong-1 module next year for further practice.
Plans call for launching two other experimental modules for more tests before the actual station is launched in three sections between 2020 and 2022.
At about 60 tons when completed, the Chinese station will be considerably smaller than the International Space Station, which is expected to continue operating through 2028.
China launched its first manned flight in 2003, joining Russia and the United States as the only countries to launch humans into orbit. The Chinese space programme also calls for one day landing on the Moon, possibly with astronauts.