A Chinese space expert said in Beijing on Tuesday that the Long March 5 large-thrust carrier rocket, currently under development and scheduled to be put into service in 2014, will be mainly used for the delivery of lunar rovers, large satellites and space stations.
"With a maximum payload capacity up to 25 tons, the jumbo rocket is expected to be able to send lunar rovers, large satellites and space stations into space after 2014," said Liang Xiaohong, vice president of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
The rocket, whose development was approved by the central authorities in 2007 following two decades of feasibility study, will be manufactured at a rocket production facility in the Binhai New Area of Tianjin, a port city some 120 km to the southeast of Beijing, said Liang, also a member of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body currently holding its annual full session here.
The facility will be able to produce 12 large-thrust carrier rockets each year, to meet both domestic and international demand for commercial satellite launches, Liang told Xinhua on the sidelines of the session.
He added that researchers on the new rocket, designed to be non-toxic and pollution-free, would complete the design work by October this year and then present an initial model.
"Many ground tests will be conducted before the introduction of a trial model and the first launch of the rocket," he said.
The first launch of the Long March 5 is most likely to happen in Wenchang of China's southernmost island province of Hainan, where a new satellite launch center is under construction, according to Liang.
The space engineer explained that the new launch center, scheduled to be put into operation in 2014, is close to the Equator, which is good for the saving of rocket fuel, and free from the threat of typhoon despite its geographical location.
As the core stage of the new jumbo rocket has a diameter up to five meters, it is very difficult to transport the rocket by rail or by road to China's three existing satellite launch centers, respectively in Xichang, Jiuquan and Taiyuan.
"The best option is to deliver the rocket by sea, with a cargo ship of special design, to the new launch center in Hainan," he concluded.
China currently employs its self-developed Long March 3 series rocket for most space missions. A Long March 3A rocket was used to deliver the country's first lunar probe Chang'e-1 in October 2007.
According to earlier media reports, the Long March 3C carrier rocket, the development of which started in 1994, will have its first launch at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Since 1996, China has topped the world with a straight record of 61 successful rocket launches, said Liang.