China launched the first module of its new space station on Thursday, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reports.

The missile with the so-called 'Tianhe' module on board took off from the South China island province of Hainan.

Tianhe is approximately 16 meters long and the first of four modules.

The final station must be able to house three 'taikonauts', or Chinese astronauts, at the same time.

China wants to finish the station in 2022, when it will have a length of 20 meters.

This makes the station five times smaller than the 109-meter long international space station ISS.

The previous two Chinese space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, crashed to Earth in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

If this new station succeeds, it will remain in orbit at an altitude of between 340 and 450 kilometers.

China has been focusing more and more on space in recent times.

For example, in 2019 it became the first country ever to plant a lander on the far side of the moon.

Last February, the country put a satellite into orbit around Mars and next month China will try to place a lander on the red planet.

If successful, China will be the third country ever, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to make a soft landing on Mars.