It's been a big year for China's space program, as it became only the third nation to dock in space as part of the Tiangong space laboratory project. The country has published a white paper celebrating its achievements in 2011, and gives an idea of its roadmap for the next five years too. It's clear that China sees its forays into space as key to its continuing development, and has some ambitious plans to continue its exploration.

The Shenzhou (meaning Heavenly Ship) program will continue, with Shenzhou-9 and -10 set to add more components to the Tiangong-1 laboratory, which remains in orbit after docking with Shenzhou-8. Manned spaceflight is also a high priority, though transportation systems come top on the list of future plans. Alongside these orbital missions, China is aiming further — it will continue with its lunar probe project, and it could send the first men to the moon since 1972. The paper also touches on plans to further develop the Beidou system activated earlier this week, as part of an extended network of satellites that will also power media and communications.

If it can achieve these grand aspirations, China could well be the leader in space exploration within the next few years. This investment is a sharp contrast to the rest of the world, where austerity has meant that other space programs have been severely reined in.