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News > Science and Tech

China Launches Ambitious Bid to Dominate Space Exploration

  • China's Long March 5 rocket is launched into space.

    China's Long March 5 rocket is launched into space. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 November 2017

Longer-term goals include the development of a nuclear-powered space shuttle, and creating a generation of advanced launchers by 2040.

The main contractor fuelling China's intergalactic ambitions has released an ambitious schedule for developing the country's space-exploration technology with the aim of propelling it to global dominance in the field.

The Long March 8 rocket, named for the 6,000-mile trek undertaken by the revolutionary Red Army in which Mao Zedong rose to prominence, is set for release by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation in 2020.

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The Long March 9, set to follow in 2030, will be a super-heavy-lift rocket capable of making manned lunar missions, as well as carrying cargo to Mars.

Perhaps most importantly, China has set a deadline of 2025 for the development of a reusable space plane which could fuel space tourism, in the vein of similar efforts being made by private U.S. companies SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Longer-term goals include the development of a nuclear-powered space shuttle, along with a generation of advanced launchers by 2040. The proposed launchers would be capable of constructing infrastructure to harness resources in space: for example, a space-based solar-power station or asteroid-mining operations.

The timeline, should it be realised, is intended to position China as the world leader in space technology.

The country is estimated to spend at least US$6 billion every year on its space program, and places a heavy emphasis on space exploration as a way of developing technologies and new resources that can improve the livelihoods of its population.

For decades, space exploration was dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has been significantly less able to invest in its program. Today, the field is increasingly dominated by private investment in the United States, but China hopes to change that.

"You will see the Chinese quite visibly begin to match the capacity of the other space-faring powers by 2020," Brian Harvey, author of "China in Space: The Great Leap Forward," told the Guardian.

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