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China’s Super-Rocket Could Land Astronauts on the Moon

Nov 11, 2016 04:18 AM EST

China's heavy-lift rocket Long March-5 has successfully launched on Nov. 3 from the new Wenchang Space Launch Center carrying an experimental satellite into near-Earth orbit.

The 187-foot-long Long March-5 is equaled in power with the U.S. Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle - which was used by NASA to test-launch the new Orion spacecraft - about 25 metric tons to low-Earth orbit, Ars Technica reports. Scientists said the rocket launch easily shows that China could one day land taikonauts on the moon if it wants to.

Earlier this year, China had expressed its intent to land a man on the moon in the next 15 to 20 years. According to scientists, the Long March-5 is already powerful enough to stage an Earth orbit for landings on the moon and to push payloads of about eight metric tons into a Lunar transfer orbit.

"By launching and rendezvousing four of those in low Earth orbit, it would be possible for the Chinese to construct a manned lunar mission with no more than that rocket and no more than Apollo technology," Mike Griffin, former NASA Administrator, told the House of Representatives in September 2011, as reported by Ars Technica.

"I have in fact, in the past, written up how that mission would work from an engineering perspective. So with the Long March-5, the Chinese inherently possessed the capability to return to the Moon should they wish to do so."

Its most recent launch also demonstrates China's capability to deploy both humans and medium-sized payloads into orbit. As Ars Technica points out, these launch capabilities will allow China to build the modular space station it plans to complete by 2018, which could easily beat the International Space Station (ISS).

"China is developing very rapidly into one of the major space players," Fabio Favata, head of the program coordination office at the European Space Agency's (ESA) directorate of science, said in a statement.

The Long March-5 will also be used to launch China's Mars 2020 probe and the Chang'e-5 lunar probe in 2017.

China is now developing the Long March-9 rocket, a super-heavy lift rocket about the size of the Apollo program's Saturn V. However, the rocket is not expected to fly until 2025.

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