China launches Long March-5B rocket for space station programme
China's new large carrier rocket Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China's new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for a test flight into space.
The successful flight inaugurated the "third step" of China's manned space programme, which is to construct a space station, said the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
The large white rocket blasted off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the coast of southern China's island province of Hainan at 6pm (Beijing Time).
About 488 seconds later, the experimental manned spacecraft with no crew, together with the test version of the cargo return capsule, separated with the rocket and entered the planned orbit, according to CMSA.
Specially developed for China's manned space programme, Long March-5B will be mainly used to launch the modules of the space station.
The Long March-5B carrier rocket will help expand China's aerospace activities, said Wang Xiaojun, head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
Modified on the basis of Long March-5, the new large rocket has a total length of 53.7m, which is as tall as an 18-storey building, and has a 5-metre-diameter core stage and four 3.35-metre-diameter boosters, as well as a 20.5-metre-long and 5.2-metre-diameter fairing.
The rocket uses environment-friendly propellants, including liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen and kerosene. It has a take-off mass of about 849 tons and is able to send more than 22 tons of payloads, equivalent to the weight of more than 10 cars, into low-Earth orbit, which is currently the largest low-Earth orbit carrying capacity among China's rockets.
The successful maiden flight vindicated the design of the rocket. A series of technological breakthroughs have been achieved such as the separation of the large fairing and the payloads in space, and the precise control of the rocket to enter orbit directly with high thrust, laying the foundation for constructing China's space station, CMSA said.