China's next space flights will include walks and dockings, but more ambitious plans for a space station and a lunar probe are still awaiting formal government approval, state press said Thursday.
The program to build a new generation of a carrier rocket -- central to building a space station and lunar exploration -- was still awaiting final government approval, the Beijing Times reported.
It would take up to six-and-a-half years after receiving the go ahead for the next generation rocket -- designated the Long March 5 -- to be able to fly, said Wu Yansheng, head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT).
"Nine tons is the biggest payload that our low orbit carrier rockets can carry at present, while eight tons is the most effective payload of the Long March 2F rocket," Wu told a space forum held Wednesday in Beijing.
"This payload capacity cannot satisfy the needs of our plans to develop a space station nor the tasks of our lunar project to land (on the moon) and return."
The Long March 2F has long been seen as one of China's most dependable rockets and is the engine that has launched the Shenzhou series of flights, including two manned flights since 2003.
China's most recent spaceflight took place last month when the Shenzhou VI put two astronauts into orbit on a five-day flight that captivated the nation.
China is the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to put men in space.
The Long March 5 is designed to carry up to a 25 ton payload, and when built will place China among the world leaders in rocket science, Wu said.
"The research and building of the next generation of rocket is going to cost several billion yuan, an investment far and away smaller than other nations," Wu said.
Previous reports said that the Long March 5 was slated to go into operation by 2008 after initial development began in 2002.
Meanwhile, other scientists revealed plans for a space walk during the Shenzhou VII flight, scheduled for 2007, and of docking experiments in subsequent unmanned and manned space flights.
"The goal of the Shenzhou VII is to get the astronaut out of the space capsule," Liu Zhusheng, head engineer of China's Long March 2F carrier rocket, said.
"On the Shenzhou VIII flight we will launch a target space ship while the Shenzhou IX will attempt an unmanned docking with the (target space ship)."
"During Shenzhou X we will undertake a manned docking," Liu told the forum at the Beijing Aeronautics and Astronautics University.
No timetable for the flights was given, but officials have previously said that the space walk would occur in 2007 and the dockings would follow in 2008 and 2009.
China has already announced that it is developing lunar satellites to probe the moon with one expected to fly by 2007 and another to land on the moon by 2012.
By 2017, China hopes to land an unmanned lunar probe on the moon and have it collect samples and return to earth.
The Long March 5 rocket is expected to carry the lunar landing missions and if approved will be the engine of China's space programs for the next 30 years.
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