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September 15, 2009

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Hainan launch site to power space program

CONSTRUCTION began yesterday in Hainan on China's fourth launch center as the country gears up for future space missions powered by a new generation of carrier rockets.

The Wenchang center on the northeast coast of the island province is expected to be completed before 2013, China News Service reported.

The site will be used mainly for launching satellites, large space stations and space probes, said Wang Weichang, director of the Hainan Space Center Project Headquarters.

It is being designed to accommodate China's next-generation Long March CZ-5 rocket, which will be able to carry bigger payloads and meet the high demands of China's space ambitions.

Space workhorse

The oxygen-hydrogen rocket, now under development by China's Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, is considered the workhorse for launching the second phase of China's manned space flights, its third lunar probe and an eventual moon landing, said Liang Xiaohong, vice director of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

The rocket will have a maximum payload capacity of 25,000 kilograms, five times the capacity of current Long March rockets. It is due to make its maiden flight in 2014.

The Hainan center will be capable of sending up 10 to 12 rockets a year. It is closer to the equator than any of the country's other three launch sites, which are all based in China's interior.

Launching earth-synchronous satellites from nearer the equator allows a substantial increase in payload mass compared with sites at higher latitudes as the centrifugal force caused by the Earth's rotation helps a rocket's carrying capacity.

The lower latitude will allow rockets to carry an additional 300 kilograms and also save fuel.

China's other launch sites are in Jiuquan, Gansu Province; Taiyuan, Shanxi Province; and Xichang, Sichuan Province. With the Hainan launch center geared toward future manned space missions, the site in Jiuquan will be responsible for recoverable satellites, the Taiyuan center for sending up sun-synchronous satellites, and the one in Xichang will become a backup launch center for the Hainan center.

China sent its first man into space in 2003 riding the domestically developed Shenzhou V spacecraft. That flight was followed by a 2005 mission that carried two taikonauts.

And a trio of Shenzhou VII taikonauts orbited the earth for three days in September last year. One of them became the first Chinese to "set foot" in outer space. The spacewalk lasted about 20 minutes and was designed to help pave the way for the country's next space mission: the launch of a space lab or space station.

The country launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, in 2007.

China's first mission to Mars is scheduled to take off in October while the second lunar probe is expected to launch next year.


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