"Becoming an aerospace power has always been a dream we've been striving for," declared President Xi Jinping when marking China's first Space Day on April 25. He urged the country to accelerate China's space program.
The dream is shaping up quickly.
Last month, China completed the world's biggest $180-million radio telescope, which is the size of 30 soccer fields — Xi referred to it as China's "eye in the sky." It will help map the universe and can receive signals from 13.7 billion light years away. This would give China's leaders the first chance to potentially receive communication from far-flung extraterrestrial civilizations.
To bolster this effort, China has built the world's fastest supercomputers to process the massive data involved with receiving this information.
In June, it launched a more powerful rocket, Long March 7, which has a 13-ton lifting capacity, from a brand-new space complex on tropical Hainan Island. That will be followed later this year by the even bigger rocket Long March 5, with a 25-ton lifting power that will rival anything that the Russians, Americans or Europeans have.
And in March of this year, China unveiled a plan to build a space telescope that will be 300 times larger in coverage than the U.S. Hubble telescope. It will be located near China's future Tiangong-3 space station for easier servicing.
China has also launched the 23rd of the 35-satellite, $810 million Beidou navigation system, which will rival the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and provide China with a strategic advantage in the event of hostilities.
Before the end of this decade, China is planning to send a robotic mission to the dark side of the moon that is forever facing away from the earth. The move would be in advance China's plan to land its astronauts there by 2030, with the aim of eventually colonizing the moon.
Crucial for China's bigger space station and missions to the moon and Mars, a new $730 million spaceport and heavier boosters mark "a huge step," said Jim Oberg, a space historian and flight expert and former long-time NASA contractor.
With its program growing by leaps and bounds, China is on record as seeking cooperation with the U.S. space program, signing an agreement with the United Nations last June to open its space station to experiments and astronauts from U.N. member states.
Still, a U.S. law passed in 2011 bans NASA from cooperating with China's state-run space program due to military security concerns.
To facilitate future cooperation, in 2015, Zhang Changwu and veterans of China's space program founded the Landspace, the country's first private aerospace company. Landspace's first commercial launch set for next year.
"Our company will be very open and transparent," Zhang told NBC News, suggesting that it can be a suitable bridge for space cooperation between China and foreign countries, including the U.S.