In photographs, the rover appeared similar to Nasa's unmanned Spirit and Opportunity Mars explorers that were launched in 2003 and are still operating.

However, unlike the rechargeable lithium ion batteries used by those rovers, the Chinese model will eventually run on a nuclear power source to ensure a constant energy supply, the report said.

The rover was shown off during a joint UK-China
meeting on space technology [Reuters]
"We want to make it better than the early US and Russian rovers," the institute's director, Luo Jian, was quoted as saying.

Rival rovers are being developed by similar institutes in Beijing and elsewhere and a decision to put Shanghai's candidate on public display over the weekend appeared to be an attempt to get an edge on the competition.

It is not known when the successful candidate will be selected.

With an average speed of 100 metres per hour, it can negotiate inclines and has automatic sensors to prevent it from crashing into other objects, the report said.

Researchers were still refining its ability to handle low gravity, exposure to cosmic rays and temperature extremes, and plan to build an even more sophisticated laboratory to mimic those conditions, the newspaper said.

The institute is part of China's sprawling military-linked space programme that has so far sent two manned missions into space.

A third manned space mission is scheduled for next year and will reportedly include the country's first spacewalk.

China plans to send an unmanned space ship to orbit the Moon this year, in the first step in its three-stage lunar exploration project.

An unmanned mission to land on the Moon is next and a manned lunar voyage is planned for some time after 2017.