The China News Service said on Tuesday that preparations were under way for the next stage in the Shenzhou, or "Divine Ship", series.

According to a space agency official, The Shenzhou VI is expected to blast off within the next two years.

The Shenzhou V, carrying astronaut Yang Liwei, circled Earth 14 times during a 21-hour trip on 15-16 October. 

The flight happened more than 40 years after the Soviet Union and the United States became the first and second countries to put man into space.

 

China's space programme 

 

Jiang Zemin, the Communist Party General Secretary, gave China's space programme impetus when he called for a manned spacecraft launch in 1992.

In December 1996, two Chinese astronauts start training at Russia's Star City Space Centre.

And in 2001, China launched the Shenzhou II which carried a monkey, a dog, a rabbit and snails.

The October, 2003 manned mission made astronaut Yang Liwei the first Chinese national to enter space.