BEIJING (AFP) - China said it successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft on Tuesday, taking its next step towards the goal of building its first space station by 2020. The Shenzhou VIII blasted off from the Gobi desert in Chinas northwest, the state Xinhua news agency said, separating from its carrier rocket, a modified Long March-2F, about 200 kilometres above the earth. It is due to join with the Tiangong-1 or Heavenly Palace, possibly within days, in what would be the countrys first space docking with a module that is already orbiting the earth. The experimental docking is part of Chinas preparation for building its first space station by 2020, where astronauts can live for several months, as they do on NASAs International Space Station or the former Russian Mir. If it is a success, China will launch another two space craft next year to conduct more docking experiments. At least one will be manned, and two female astronauts are among those being trained for the mission, according to Xinhua. If they are chosen, they will be the first women China has sent into space. China began its manned spaceflight programme in 1990 after buying Russian technology and in 2003 became the third country to send humans into space, after the former Soviet Union and the United States. China sees its ambitious space programme as a symbol of its burgeoning global stature.