China launched its first space lab, the unmanned Tiangong-1 module, Sept. 29 on a two-year mission to demonstrate autonomous docking and other technologies the nation needs to build its own space station.

A Long March 2F rocket carrying the 8.5- metric-ton module lifted off at 9:16 p.m. local time from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, according China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

A Shenzhou 8 spacecraft is slated to launch to the lab in early November, with Shenzhou 9 to follow in 2012. Both flights will be unmanned docking trials. The Shenzhou 10, also slated to launch in 2012, may carry a crew to the lab, a team that could include China’s first female astronaut, Chinese space officials said.