China is planning to carry out more than 40 rocket launches this year, the highest ever total, as it continues to expand its ambitions in space. The planned launches include the core module of China’s first space station, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CAST)’s official WeChat account. Before 2007, China had never carried out more than 10 launches a year. But since then it has gathered momentum, carrying out 152 launches over the last five years – more than any other country. “China’s manned space station project will enter a critical stage, and will be the top priority of the space programme throughout the year,” CAST said on Tuesday. It plans to launch the core module of the Tiangong Space Station in spring and aims to complete the construction by the end of next year. China launches new Long March-8 rocket in step towards reusable space vehicles Astronauts are already in training for the mission, and will also carry out retrieval missions and test in-orbit technologies, according to state media. The country’s first mission to Mars, Tianwen-1 , is also due to reach the Red Planet next month, and will aim to land a rover on the surface. The space programme will also continue to work on space station modules and prepare for a crewed lunar mission, as well as continuing to develop the Beidou navigation system – a rival to the US GPS – for use in the civilian aviation industry. Wu Yansheng, the party secretary and director of CAST, said 2020 was an important year for China’s space project and CAST will pursue “high-quality development” in the next five years. Last year was a busy one for the country’s space programme, including the completion of the Beidou satellite chain and the launch of Tianwen-1. The year ended with the success of the Chang’e 5 lunar mission , which collected rock samples from the surface of the moon and returned them to earth. China space station on track for 2022 with core module to launch in spring The country also conducted a secretive test flight of what was believed to be a fixed-wing reusable spaceplane similar to the US Space Shuttle. Beijing’s ambitious space programme also includes plans to set up a lunar station by 2045, although it still lags behind the US in areas such as reusable launch systems and satellite manufacturing.