BEIJING - Chinese scientists have improved the technology needed to carry out docking between vessels in space with the development of an "eye" guidance system that will make the procedure more efficient and safer, state news agency Xinhua said on Monday.
Advancing China's space programme has been set as a priority by leaders in Beijing, with President Xi Jinping calling for China to establish itself as a space power.
China insists that its space programme is for peaceful purposes. However, the US Defence Department has highlighted China's increasing space capabilities, saying China was pursuing activities aimed at preventing its adversaries from using space-based assets during a crisis.
In a manned space mission in 2013, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked with an experimental space laboratory, the Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) 1.
The new guidance system will be used for China's second orbiting space lab, the Tiangong 2, the Chang'e 5 lunar probe, and eventually a planned permanently manned space station, Xinhua cited the China Academy of Space Technology as saying.
China plans to launch the Tiangong 2 next year, and send the Chang'e 5 to collect samples from the moon and return to earth around 2017. A permanently manned space station is planned for about 2022.
"Good 'eyesight' is crucial for one spacecraft chasing another for hundreds of thousands of kilometres to achieve a perfect rendezvous and docking - it's like threading the needle," designer Gong Dezhu told Xinhua.
China's space programme still lags those of the United States and Russia despite considerable advances.
It must still master launching cargo and fuel via space freighters and recycling air and water for extended manned missions, state media have said.