China’s Shenzhou-13 spacecraft carrying three Chinese astronauts docked at its space station on Saturday, kicking off a record-setting six-month stay as the country moves toward completing the new orbiting outpost.

The spacecraft was launched by a Long March-2F rocket at 12.23am local time on Saturday and docked with the Tianhe core module of the Tiangong space station some six and a half hours later.

The two men and one woman are the second crew to move into the space station, which was launched last April. The first crew stayed three months.

The spaceship Shenzhou-13 is launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

The trio will set a new record for the length of time spent in space by Chinese astronauts as the country moves towards complete the orbiting structure.

The first crew members at the station conducted two spacewalks and deployed a 33ft mechanical arm before returning from their 90-day stay in mid-September.

The new crew includes two veterans of space travel – pilot Zhai Zhigang, 55, and Wang Yaping, 41, the only woman on the mission – and Ye Guangfu, 41, who is making his first trip to space.