An unmanned Chinese spacecraft has landed on the Moon, state media reported, marking only the second time the country has successfully placed a probe on the lunar surface.

The Chang'e-5 spacecraft "landed on the near side of the moon late Tuesday," the Xinhua report said, citing the China National Space Administration.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The mission's goal is to shovel up lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the Moon's origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.

If successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Chinese probe is to collect two kilogrammes (4.5 pounds) of surface material in a previously unexplored area known as Oceanus Procellarum - or "Ocean of Storms" - which consist of a vast lava plain, according to the science journal Nature.

It is expected to collect material during one lunar day, the equivalent to around 14 Earth days.

The samples will then be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in northern China's Inner Mongolia region in early December, according to US space agency NASA.