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China sees its space programme as a demonstration of its scientific prowess [GALLO/GETTY]
China is planning to build a new space launch centre on the southern island of Hainan to boost its burgeoning space programme, state media has reported.
The Wenchang space centre will be China‘s fourth rocket launch facility and the closest to the equator.
The location makes it well suited for launches, because the stronger centrifugal forces reduce the amount of energy required to launch rockets and enable larger payloads.
|The new facility will enable bigger payloads
to be launched into space [EPA]
The plan has been approved by the State Council, China‘s cabinet, and the Central Military Commission, Xinhua news agency said.
No details on construction or a completion date were given.
China is investing heavily in its space programme, which it sees both as a demonstration of its scientific prowess and a potentially lucrative business concern.
Some Western intelligence agencies also believe that China’s space programme, which has close ties to the military, has military objectives as well, although Beijing has repeatedly denied this.
Earlier this year China successfully tested an anti-satellite weapon against one of its own obsolete weather satellites in a move that drew criticism and warnings of a space arms race from some countries.
Commenting on plans for the new launch centre, Xinhua quoted an unnamed space programme official as saying the government was working on the “peaceful use of the outer space to promote development of human civilisation and social development and benefit the whole mankind”.
In 2003, China launched its first manned space mission, making it the third country to send a human into orbit on its own, after Russia and the United States.
China has also been expanding its presence in the commercial satellite launch business.
China built its first rocket launch site in Jiuquan in the Gobi desert in 1958.
The other two facilities are in Taiyuan in Shanxi province in the north and Xichang in the southwestern province of Sichuan.