China will develop rockets that can be launched into space from aircraft, a senior official told the state-run China Daily newspaper, as Beijing aims to send hundreds of satellites into orbit for military, commercial and scientific aims. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology has designed a solid-fuel rocket that could carry a 100 kg (220 lb) payload into low Earth orbit, said Li Tongyu, the head of the agency's carrier rocket development.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has prioritised advancing China's space programme, saying it was needed to enhance national security and defence, although its progress still lags behind the United States and Russia. Li said the rockets would be carried by large Y-20 strategic transport planes before being launched and that the academy planned to eventually develop a larger rocket that could carry a 200 kg payload.
"The jet will hold a rocket within its fuselage and release it at a certain altitude. The rocket will be ignited after it leaves the plane," Li said.
Rockets launched from aircraft are an alternative to more traditional ground-launched rockets. They have the benefit of being able to be launched quickly and precisely, without launch range scheduling issues and weather-related delays.
Chinese state media said last month China planned to launch its first cargo spacecraft in April, taking a step towards its goal of establishing a permanently manned space station by 2022. The United States has previously highlighted China's increasing space capabilities, saying it was pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations using space-based assets in a crisis.