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China plans spaceport number 4

Expanding space programmes need launch pads

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China is planning to build a fourth spaceport, or rocket launch pad, in line with its ever-expanding space exploration ambitions.

The construction will begin on the southern island of Hainan, in the town of Wenchang, roughly 40 miles south of the province's capital Haikou, according to state news agency Xinhua. The plans call for a command centre, launch pad, rocket assembly site and, rather fabulously, a theme park.

The site was chosen because: "Wenchang's low-latitude and geographic proximity to the Equator will increase capacity for rocket carriers and extend the life span of satellites," the news agency reports.

China is only the third nation to have successfuly put a human in space. In 2003, 50 years after its first rocket launch, the Shenzhou-V spacecraft carried one astronaut, Yang Liwei, above the atmosphere for just over 21 hours.

In 2005, China repeated the feat, sending two astronauts on a much longer space jaunt.

Since then, China has been bullish in its approach to space exploration, declaring that it would send manned exploration missions to the Moon, with a view to setting up Helium mining operations. Although the projected date for that adventure has slipped from 2017 to 2024, China says it will also send a probe to our biggest satellite later this year. ®

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