Tianjin - A week after the launch of the first lunar orbiter, the government Tuesday announced the building of a new family of rocket launchers and a launch center.
The Long March 5 carrier rockets will be made in the northern coastal city of Tianjin while the new launch center will be located in the southernmost province of Hainan.
A groundbreaking ceremony of a new rocket-building base is held in Tianjin October 30, 2007. [Xinhua]
The next-generation rockets will be able to carry up to 25 tons to near-Earth orbits, up from the current 9 tons; and 14 tons to geosynchronous orbits, up from 5 tons. The diameter will be increased to 5 meters from 3.35 meters.
They are designed to launch space stations or heavyweight satellites, which the current Long March 3-A rockets cannot handle.
"They are expected to meet the demands of space technology development and peaceful use of space for the next 30 to 50 years," Wu Yansheng, president of China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said yesterday at the groundbreaking ceremony of the base.
"It will also give China the same launch capabilities as developed countries," Wu said, which means the nation can be as competitive in the lucrative international commercial launch market.
Research and tests on key technologies of the new rockets have been completed, the academy said in a statement.
Complementing the rocket-building base will be the new launch center at Wenchang.
Insiders said Tianjin was chosen because its location by the sea can facilitate the maritime transportation of the new rockets - which are too big to be transported by rail to any of the current three launch centers in Gansu, Shanxi and Sichuan provinces - to Hainan.
The manufacturing base in Tianjin is expected to cost several billion yuan but neither the academy nor the Tianjin municipal government would reveal the exact amount.
As the launch center in Wenchang will not be ready until 2012, the new generation rockets will not blast off before 2013. Earlier reports suggested that the Chang'e II and III were likely to lift off atop the new carrier rockets.
The indigenously developed Long March carrier rocket series have been launched 103 times - including for the liftoff of Chang'e I last week - since their debut in April 1970.
Between April 1970 and October 1997, there were seven failures in 49 launches, according to a 1998 issue of Aerospace China magazine. Since 1997, the success rate has been 100 percent.