China is working on a super-powerful rocket that would be capable of delivering heavier payloads into low orbit than NASA, a leading Chinese space expert was quoted.

By 2030, the Long March-9 rocket under development will be able to carry 140 tonnes into low-Earth orbit - where TV and earth observation satellites currently fly - said Long Lehao, a senior official from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

This compares to the 20 tonnes deliverable by Europe's Ariane 5 rocket or the 64 tonnes by Elon Musk's Falcon Heavy, which in February catapulted one of the US entrepreneur's red Tesla Roadster cars towards Mars.

China aims to outstrip NASA with super-powerful rocket.

It would also outstrip the 130 tonnes of NASA's Space Launch System, which is due to become operational in 2020.

China's Long March-9 would have a core stage measuring 10 metres (33 feet) in diameter and boast four powerful boosters, each with a diameter of five metres.

Xinhua quoted Long as saying the rocket could be used in manned lunar landings, deep space exploration or constructing a space-based solar power plant.

In addition, China is working on a reusable space rocket, which is expected to make its maiden flight in 2021. 

The first stage and the boosters will be retrieved after a vertical landing, Long said in a speech in Beijing.

Earlier reported, China is building a 'demonstrator' for a huge first-stage rocket engine, possibly this year. 

Work on engines for second and third stages and on the structure for the giant launcher, informally called Long March 9 and due to go to the Moon around 2030, is also underway, according to the report in Aviation Week.

The organization developing the hardware, the Academy of Aerospace Propulsion Technology (AAPT), says the demonstrator, which it calls a prototype, will be a complete engine. 

However, it lacks test facilities for engines of this size, raising the possibility that the hardware it is building will be a scaled-down engine. 

Work on a second-stage engine of about 200 metric tons thrust and one for the third stage, generating about 25 metric tons thrust, is also in progress, AAPT says.

China is pouring billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022, and of sending humans to the Moon in the near future.

The Asian superpower is looking to finally catch up with the US and Russia after years of belatedly matching their space milestones.

China is also planning to build a base on the moon, the state-run Global Times said in early March, citing the Communist Party chief of the China Academy of Space Technology.