(Bloomberg) -- China launched a rocket carrying three astronauts to its newly completed space station, where they’re scheduled to spend the next six months on projects aimed at fulfilling Beijing’s goal of creating a permanent Chinese presence in space.

The Shenzhou-15 spacecraft took off aboard a Long March-2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China at about 11:08pm local time, state media reported.

Tuesday’s launch marked a breakthrough for the Chinese space agency, which for the first time sent a crewed mission into space during extremely cold conditions.

Unlike NASA, which typically starts US space missions from facilities at warmer-weather locations in Florida or southern California, China’s space agency operates one of China’s main launch facilities at a site in the Gobi Desert, where temperatures in late November can fall to around minus-20C (minus-4F).

China, barred by the US from participating in the International Space Station, is the only country to operate an orbiting station of its own, and the Chinese space agency has many other ambitious plans, including sending astronauts from China to the moon.

The US is racing to get back there first, and possibly as early as 2025. NASA on Nov. 16 launched its most powerful rocket in 50 years, sending the uncrewed Orion capsule on a lunar mission that’s part of a program to return US astronauts to the moon within the coming decade.

China is working to get there too, according to official media.

“Our astronauts will likely be able to go to the moon within 10 years,” Wu Weiran, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, said in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV this month.

Upon reaching the Chinese space station, the Shenzhou-15 astronauts will briefly share it with three astronauts from an earlier mission, Shenzhou-14, who have been up there since June.

It will be the first time Chinese astronauts from two different missions will be on the space station together, an accomplishment that’s “not only of symbolic significance but also carries great practical values to the overall development of the country’s first permanent space outpost,” reported the Global Times, a newspaper controlled by China’s Communist Party.

The Shenzhou-14 astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth about a week after the arrival of their colleagues from Shenzhou-15.

--With assistance from Loren Grush.

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