updated 6/18/2007 8:28:14 AM ET 2007-06-18T12:28:14

China plans to develop a new generation of carrier rockets with a payload capacity large enough to launch a space station, state media reported Monday.

China attaches great prestige to its space program, seeing it as a way to validate its claims to being one of the world's leading scientific nations.

China launched its first manned space mission in 2003, making it the third country to send a human into orbit on its own after Russia and the United States.

The country put two astronauts into orbit for a week in 2005 and officials have said they want to put a man on the moon and build a space station in the next 10 or 15 years.

The payload capacity of China's Long March series of carrier rockets will be more than doubled from 9.5 tons to 25 tons in order to advance the country's lunar exploration program, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing an official with the state-run China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.

The official did not say when the rockets would be ready for launch.

The new generation of carrier rockets would have a large enough payload from which to launch a space station, Xinhua said, citing Huang Chunping, a Chinese aerospace expert.

On June 1, China launched a new communications satellite into orbit to provide broader radio and television signal coverage across the country.

The long-scheduled launch followed the failed deployment in October of another communications satellite whose solar panels and communications antennae did not operate properly.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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