BEIJING - China plans to launch space labs and manned ships and prepare to build space stations over the next five years, according to a plan released Thursday that shows that its space program is gathering momentum.

China has already said its eventual goals are to have a space station and put an astronaut on the moon. It has made methodical progress with its lunar and human spaceflight programs, but its latest five-year plan beginning next year signals an acceleration.

By the end of 2016, China will launch space lab, manned spaceship, and ship freighters, and will make technological preparations for the construction of space stations, according to the white paper that sets out China's space progress and future missions.

China's space program has made breakthroughs in a relatively short time, though it lags far behind the United States and Russia.

The country will keep exploring the moon using probes, start gathering samples of the moon's surface, and "push forward its exploration of planets, asteroids and the sun."

It will use spacecraft to study the properties of black holes and begin monitoring space debris and small near-Earth celestial bodies and build a system to protect spacecraft from debris.

The paper also says China will improve its launch vehicles; improve its communications, broadcasting, and meteorological satellites; and develop a global satellite navigation system, intended to rival the United States' dominant global positioning system (GPS) network.

China puts great emphasis on development of its space industry, which is seen as a symbol of national prestige.

Its space principles - including peaceful development, enhancing international cooperation and deep space exploration - are largely unchanged from papers in 2000 and 2006.

In 2003, China became the third country after the United States and Russia to launch a man into space and, five years later, completed a space walk.