Three Chinese astronauts have returned to Earth after 183 days in space, state television reported, completing the country's longest crewed space mission to date.

The trio - two men, Zhai Zhigang and Ye Guangfu and one woman, Wang Yaping - landed at Inner Mongolia nine hours after they left a key module of China's first space station.

While in orbit, the Shenzhou-13 mission astronauts took manual control in the Tianhe living quarters module for what state media called a "docking experiment" with the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft.

Following their launch in October, the astronauts spent 183 days in space, completing the fifth of 11 missions needed to finish the Tiangong space station by the end of the year.

Shenzhou-13 was the second of four planned crewed missions to complete construction of the space station, which began last April.

Shenzhou-12 returned to Earth in September.

Students wave Chinese national flags as they watch a live TV broadcast of the landing of Shenzhou-13

Ms Wang became the first Chinese woman to spacewalk last November, as she and her colleague Zhai installed space station equipment during a six-hour stint.

The trio have completed two spacewalks, carried out numerous scientific experiments, set up equipment and tested technologies for future construction during their time in orbit.

The astronauts spent the past few weeks tidying up and preparing the cabin facilities and equipment for the crew of the incoming Shenzhou-14, expected to be launched in the coming months.

Tiangong is expected to operate for at least ten years, and the three astronauts are the second group to stay there.

Six months will become the normal astronaut residence period aboard the Chinese space station, according to CCTV.

The Shenzhou-13 spacecraft is launched last October in Jiuquan, Gansu Province of China

China's next two missions will be Tianzhou-4, a cargo spacecraft, and the three-person Shenzhou-14 mission, Shao Limin, deputy technology manager of Manned Spaceship System was quoted by state media as saying.

Barred by the United States from participating in the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit, China has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own space station, the only one in the world other than the ISS.

China, which aims to become a space power by 2030, has successfully launched probes to explore Mars and became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.