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China’s space ambitions took a step forward with the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) reportedly patenting a design for a super heavy-lift launch vehicle strikingly similar to SpaceX’s Starship.

This new Chinese launch vehicle, envisioned as part of the Long March 9 family, would utilize clusters of 26 reusable engines for its first stage, mirroring the architecture of SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster. The design details were previously presented by officials from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the nation’s primary space contractor.

While the exact timeline remains undisclosed, CASC reportedly targets a first test flight for this massive rocket around 2033.

This timeframe, if achieved, would position China’s program roughly a decade behind SpaceX. SpaceX’s Starship prototype has already completed successful high-altitude test flights, with ongoing development aiming for orbital flights in the near future.

However, it’s important to note that a patent and a fully operational launch vehicle are two distinct stages. Challenges in development and testing could push China’s first test flight beyond the projected 2033 window.

The emergence of this Starship-inspired design highlights the growing competition in the global space race, with nations vying for dominance in reusable launch vehicle technology.