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China builds launch platform number four

The Asian space-race hotteth up

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China has confirmed that it is to build a new satellite launching platform, its fourth, in its southern province of Hainan. It is the latest in a string of space-related announcements from the country in recent months.

The platform will be built in the southerly island province of Hainan, according to local news agency Xinhaunet, and is slated for a 2010 completion date. Hainan is located just 20 degrees north of the equator, meaning its launches will get a big boost from the spin of the Earth.

Space analyst Charles Vick, a senior fellow at globalsecurity.org, a think tank in Alexandria, Virginia, US told New Scientist that the site is likely to be used for future human space missions, and could also accommodate the country's Long March rocket, which is expected to make its debut in 2008.

In January, Britain and China signed a memorandum of understanding on collaboration in space; by the beginning of March China had announced the opening of a space junk-monitoring facility and Japan's successful satellite launch sparked talk of a new, Asian, space race. Chinese officials also met with NASA in December 2004 to discuss possible collaboration.

China first launched a crewed space mission in 2003, becoming the third country to do so. It is already planning another mission, which is scheduled to take off from Gansu Province launch site in October 2005. ®

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