China says it has test-launched the world's biggest and most advanced rocket engine.
Tested in the country's northwest on Tuesday, the monolithic solid rocket motor is over 11 feet wide and boasts a 500-ton thrust.
According to scientists at the state-owned Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the whopping measurements make it the largest of its kind in the world.
The engine is a massive boost to China's ambitions for space travel, including manned missions to the moon and Mars thanks to its "high-performance" fibre composite shell, "super-sized" nozzle and propellant capacity of 150 tons.
South China Morning Post says the new technology represents the strides made by scientists who have gained ground on their industry peers in the West.
It adds that the world's most powerful solid-rocket fuel engine is the result of several breakthroughs in fuel efficiency, flight control and engine re-ignition technology, according to researchers at the Xian Institute of Aerospace Information.
The rapid development of solid-fuel rocket technology in China has in part been driven by the hypersonic weapons programme, according to researchers at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing in a study last year.
China's state broadcaster CCTV, said: "This success marks a substantial increase in China's solid-carrying capacity and is of great significance to the future development of large and heavy-lift launch vehicle technologies."
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The report said the rocket was independently designed by CASC's Academy of Aerospace Solid Propulsion Technology and according to CCTV, are "not only safe and reliable but also high-quality, low-cost, easy to use and durable".
This 500-ton engine will be used to power the next-generation Long March 9 rocket – still under development – at the end of the decade, as reported by the South China Morning Post in May.
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Long March 9 could launch China's first crewed missions to the moon after 2030, followed by taking astronauts to Mars. According to Newsweek, China and Russia are in talks to set up a shared lunar base from 2035.
China launched three astronauts aboard the Shenzhou-13 to its Tiangong space station over the weekend, in a mission that will become the country's longest-ever space mission.
The previous record was held by the Shenzhen 12 crew's 90 days in low-Earth orbit.
By comparison, the crew of Shenzhou-13 are not scheduled to return to Earth for another six months in spring 2022.
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