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China Launches Major Space Telescope Into Orbit

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China launched its first X-ray space telescope Thursday, according to state-run media.

China’s Insight telescope will observe magnetic fields, pulsars, black holes and gamma ray bursts. The telescope was carried into space by a Chinese-made Long March rocket. Beijing sees its space program as a symbol of national prestige.

“Insight is expected to push forward the development of space astronomy and improve space X-ray detection technology in China,” reads the report by state-run media outlet Xinhua.

China plans to invest $2.17 billion into its space program between 2026 and 2030, about three to four times more than the $695 million it spent from 2011 to 2016. The country’s annual space budget is comparatively less than NASA, but the U.S. space agency spends more on programs not directly related to space exploration.

China opened a “lunar palace” training center in May so that the country can eventually operate a moon base.

China and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced a possible partnership to build a base on the moon in April. China wants to join the ESA’s Moon Village” plan, which would put a base on the moon starting in 2020 to mine minerals and provide a refueling station for future Mars missions. The ESA also hopes its moon base will attract paying space tourists.

In December, China announced plans to land a probe on Mars by 2020. If the country successfully lands the probe on Mars, it will be the second nation in human history to do so. Both Russia and the European Union have repeatedly failed to operate a probe on Mars. No country besides the U.S. has successfully operated a probe on Mars for longer than 14.5 seconds.

After its first manned mission in 2003, China staged a spacewalk, landed a rover on the moon and launched a test space station. The country has launched a total of five crewed flights since 2003 and launched its second space station into orbit earlier in September.

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