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To make space exploration easier, China will launch rockets from freighters and planes

• By Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer

China's land-based Long March space launch rockets have been the backbone of its space program for more than 40 years. It looks like that's about to change, as the nation is making moves to launch from aircraft and ships.

Starting next year, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) will use 10,000-ton freighters as ocean-going launchpads for its Long March 11 launch rocket. The Long March 11 can carry up to 1,100 pounds into low-earth orbit. The plan is to bring the freighters to the equator, so the rockets require less fuel and can accommodate larger payloads.

Another alternative is from the air. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology announced this month that they're developing a solid-fueled space launch rocket to be dropped from the Y-20. The rocket itself is expected to weigh about 60 tons (the Y-20's payload is 66 tons) and has a low Earth orbit payload of 220 pounds. 

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