China will launch its Shenzhou IX manned spacecraft at 6:37 pm Saturday, sending the country's first female astronaut into space, a spokeswoman said Friday.
The crew will be headed by, a veteran astronaut who has gone to space twice already. Liu Wang, who has been in the space programme for 14 years, is in charge of manual docking manoeuvres.
Liu Yang, 33, meanwhile, who has created a stir in the media and online for becoming China's first woman to travel to space, will be conducting aerospace medical experiments and other space tests.
The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center holds a departure ceremony for China's first female astronaut and two male crew mates, due to board the Shenzhou IX spacecraft, on Saturday afternoon.
The 13 day flight of Shenzhou-9 is centered around the expected docking with unmanned space module Tiangong-1 that was launched on September 29, 2011.
The spacecraft will take two days to get near Tiangong-1.
Providing everything goes according to plan, the docking is expected to take place on June 18.
China sent its first person into space in 2003 and has since conducted several manned missions, the latest in 2008, but has never yet included a woman.
The docking mission will be the latest show of China's growing prowess in space, alongside its growing military and diplomatic presence, and comes while budget restraints and shifting priorities have held back U.S. manned space launches.
The current programme aims to provide China with a space station in which a crew can live independently for several months, as at the old Russian Mir facility or the International Space Station.