Final module docks at China's Tiangong space station

The final unit of China's Tiangong space station successfully docked with the basic structure on Tuesday, state media said, a major step in completing it by the end of the year and a historic moment in the country's space ambitions.

Tiangong is one of the crown jewels of Beijing's well-funded program — which has landed robotic vehicles on Mars and the Moon, and made the country only the third to put humans in orbit — as it looks to catch up with major space powers like the United States and Russia.

China has been International Space Station (ISS) since 2011, when Washington banned NASA from doing business with Beijing.

Analyst Shen Lan told AFP that the completion of Tangoing would indicate that "China is now an equal player in space with the United States, Russia and Europe."

"In terms of the scientific and commercial aspects, it is always good to see new players coming... Competition will always speed up innovation," he added.

The laboratory unit, called Mengtian - or "dream sky" - was launched on a Long March 5B rocket from the Wenchang launch center on China's tropical island of Hainan, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Amateur photographers and space enthusiasts watched the launch, which took place at 3:27 p.m. local time (0727 GMT), from a nearby beach.

About 10 minutes later, launch site commander Deng Hongqin declared the event a "complete success."

About 13 hours later, in the early hours of Tuesday Beijing time, Mengtian docked with the Tianhe core unit, Xinhua said, citing China's manned space agency