China will send its first civilian astronaut into space as part of a crewed mission to the Tiangong space station on Tuesday, the country's Manned Space Agency said.

"Payload expert Gui Haichao is a professor at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics," China Manned Space Agency Spokesperson Lin Xiqiang told reporters Monday.

Until now, all Chinese astronauts sent into space have been part of the People's Liberation Army.

Gui will be "mainly responsible for the on-orbit operation of space science experimental payloads", Lin said.

The mission commander is Jing Haipeng, and the third crew member is Zhu Yangzhu.

They are set to take off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China on Tuesday at 9.31 am (0131 GMT), the Manned Space Agency said.

Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China's "space dream" have been put into overdrive.

The world's second-largest economy has invested billions of dollars in its military-run space programme, with hopes of eventually sending humans to the Moon.

Beijing is trying to finally catch up with the United States and Russia after years of belatedly matching their milestones.

China is also planning to build a base on the Moon and the country's National Space Administration said it aims to launch a crewed lunar mission by 2029.