BEIJING, March 3 (Xinhua) -- China is expected to launch an upper stage aircraft this year that can be used as a "space shuttle bus" to propel payload in space, a senior official in charge of rocket research said Monday.
The Yuanzheng-1 (Expedition-1) upper stage aircraft, attached with a carrier rocket, can carry aircraft using its own power system after reaching an initial orbit, said Liang Xiaohong, Party secretary of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
Yuanzheng-1, which uses liquid propellant, can fulfill several missions while in space and operate as long as 6.5 hours in orbit, said Liang, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body.
It has the same function as a carrier rocket and can bring multiple aircraft to different locations in space, said Liang.
Yuanzheng-1 will play an important role in future moon and Mars exploration as well as orbital transfer and space debris clearing, he said.
China has developed multiple upper stage aircraft with solid propellants since 1980s. Those aircraft had 10 flights, all of which were successful.