China's Shenzhou X spacecraft, with three of the country's astronauts on board, docked manually on Sunday with the Tiangong I space laboratory, completing one of its last missions before returning to Earth next week, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

The spacecraft separated from the space platform at 8:26 a.m. Chinese local time and then redocked with it at 10:07, Xinhua said, citing the Aerospace Control Center in Beijing.

Astronaut Nie Haisheng, who is on his second mission into space, having first gone into orbit in 2005, was in charge of the docking operation whereby China is testing the ability of its spacecraft to link up with permanent space stations if automatic docking mechanisms and procedures fail.

Shenzhou X (which means "Divine vessel" in Chinese) is the Asian giant's fifth crewed space mission. It was launched into orbit on June 11 and docked automatically with Tiangong I two days later.

Tiangong I is the first experimental module aimed at providing China with a permanent orbital space station, a feat it hopes to achieve by 2020 with Tiangong III. EFE