China is building a facility on its east coast that will allow it to launch rockets from the sea, state media has reported. Wang Zhanyu, vice-president of China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said the site near the city of Haiyang in Shandong province would supplement the four existing launch sites, one on Hainan island and the others in remote areas of Gansu, Sichuan and Shanxi provinces. “With the rapid development of the commercial aerospace industry, the demand for launches is increasing day by day. And the sea-based rocket launches are a powerful supplement to traditional land-based launches,” Wang told state news agency Xinhua on Wednesday. In June last year China became the first country to own and operate its own floating sea launch platform when a Long March 11 rocket blasted off from a site in the Yellow Sea near the new base, carrying five satellites and two experimental probes. The first sea launches were carried out in the 1990s under a now-cancelled programme involving Russia, the United States, Norway and Ukraine. In September this year China conducted a similar launch, sending nine satellites into space in a mission hailed as an “important step” by Li Zongli, director of the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre. After the first mission, aerospace officials said they hoped sea launches could help cut the costs and the risk of sending rockets into space by offering more flexibility over the choice of launch site and date. China sent more satellites into space this year than US, Russia: report Sea launches can also reduce the risk of debris hitting populated areas and allow scientists to pick the precise launch trajectory. The new site is part of a comprehensive deal, which was signed between the manufacturer China Rocket Company and the municipal government of Haiyang on Wednesday. With an investment of 23 billion yuan (about US$3.5 billion), the Oriental Aerospace Harbour project includes an aerospace industrial estate, a homeport for sea-based rocket launches and an aerospace-themed tourist facility. The base will be able to produce 20 rockets annually, including the Smart Dragon, a carrier designed for commercial use. It will also offer other services such as rocket assembly and testing. The announcement came as the country’s space programme announced that the Chang’e 5 lunar mission had finished collecting rocks from the moon’s surface. The module was due to lift off from the moon’s surface and dock with the orbiter, before transferring the sealed samples to the vessel that will take them back to earth.