China new-generation rockets ready "in five years"

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BEIJING, Nov 20 (Reuters) China's next generation of rockets designed to send heavyweight satellites and space stations into orbit will be ready for launch in five years, local media reported today.

China last month announced the new Long March 5 carrier rockets would be made in the northern port city of Tianjin, but launched from a new centre being built on the tropical southern island of Hainan.

''The technological issues of the next generation of carrier rockets have basically been solved,'' the Beijing News quoted Zhang Yanhe, deputy director of the Tianjin office of the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence, as saying.

''The preliminary plan is to be able to put these rockets into operation after five years.'' The rockets, ranging from 2.25 to 5-metres (7.4 to 16.4-feet) in diameter, would ''satisfy China's demands for technological development and the peaceful use of space for the next 30 to 50 years'', Zhang added.

China would start building the rockets at the end of 2009 at a 4.5 billion yuan (606 million dollars) base in Tianjin currently under construction, the paper said.

Since becoming only the third country to launch a man into space on its own rocket in 2003, China's space ambitions have quickened in recent years.

Its first lunar probe, Chang'e 1, reached its working orbit earlier in the month, and the second stage of the project envisages a moon landing.

It has also said it would work with Russia to send probes to Mars aboard a Russian rocket in 2009.

Reuters ARB DB0940

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