China will launch its first lunar landing mission in the second half of 2013, state news agency Xinhua said Tuesday.

The unmanned craft represents a further leap for the rising superpower's ambitious space program, with a manned mission to the lunar surface planned for the near future.

Reports said the exploratory craft is designed to land and transmit back a survey of the moon's surface.

Earlier this month three Chinese astronauts, including the first woman, returned to Earth after their manned spaceship successfully docked to the Tiangong-1 orbiting space module.

The flight saw China's first female astronaut, Liu Yang, 33, go into space.

 She was accompanied on the mission by veteran astronaut and commander, Jing Haipeng, 45, and crew mate Liu Wang, 43, who served as the Shenzhou 9 docking pilot.

The mission, which launched into space on June 16, included displays of manual and automatic dockings, both of which are essential for the construction of a permanent manned space station.

The successful linkups made China the third country, after the United States and Russia, to accomplish manned dockings in orbit.

"When I was a pilot I flew in the sky; now as an astronaut, I'm going into space. It's higher and it's farther," the BBC quoted Astronaut Liu Yang, as saying.

"I want to record all my feelings and my work, to share with my friends, and my comrades and my future colleagues."

The Tiangong space lab is an 8.5-ton space-laboratory module, which is capable of supporting the docking of manned and autonomous spacecraft; it was launched in September 2011.

The nation hopes to construct a space station in orbit by 2020.