China plans mega rocket for manned lunar missions

China is planning to start using a huge carrier rocket powerful enough for manned lunar missions before 2031. The new rocket will measure over a hundred meters in length and nearly 10 meters in diameter under the current design, according to a statement issued on Friday by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies (CALT), developer of the country's Long March rocket series,

It will have a maximum payload capacity more than five times as high as the current Long March series rockets, the CALT said, without offering specific figures.

At present, the Chinese rocket capable of carrying most weight is the Long March-5, which is scheduled to debut in the latter half of this year. It is expected that the large thrust rocket, with a diameter of five meters, will boast a payload capacity of 25 tonnes to low Earth orbit (LEO), or 14 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit.

Able to carry more weight, China's new rocket could be used in deep space missions such as manned lunar exploration, retrieval of Martian samples as well as probes to other planets in the solar system, according to the statement. The announcement came with China planning a maiden flight for its Long March-7 carrier rocket in a five-day launch window between Saturday and Wednesday.

The Long March-7 is a medium-sized rocket that can carry up to 13.5 tonnes to LEO. Its main role in the future will be to transport cargo ships to China's planned space stations, due to enter service around 2022, as well as satellites and other spacecraft.

"If everything goes well, we may schedule the maiden flight for the new mega rocket within 15 years," the CALT statement said. "It will significantly increase China's capacity to enter deep space."

The country sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, making it the third nation after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently. In 2008, astronauts aboard Shenzhou-7 made China's first space walk.

China's lunar rover Jade Rabbit is currently on the surface of the moon. The craft was launched as part of the Chang'e-3 lunar mission in 2013. In April, the country also announced plans to orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover around 2020.



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