China’s new large carrier rocket named Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China’s new generation of manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule into space. State run news agency Xinhua has deemed it “an important step in the nation’s plan to build a space station”.
The rocket, a variant of the Long March-5 is designed to carry space station modules into orbit and has the ability to carry larger payloads up to 22 tonnes into the low-earth orbit.
The successful flight inaugurated the “third step” of China’s manned space program, which is to construct a space station, said the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).
China is catching up in the space race with rivals US and this launch follows in the footsteps of the US moon landing 50 years later.
Xinhua reports that at takeoff the total rocket and its attached load weighs around 849 tonnes and measures around 53.7 meters in length.
According to Xinhua, “the single-core stage makes for a simple structure and will ensure greater reliability compared to multi-stage rockets.” Making sure that the rocket could drop its payload directly into orbit requires extreme precision which was one of the main challenges for designers.
Chief designer Li Dong told Xinhua “as a result, the long March-5B is equipped with guidance, navigation, and control technology that mean its trajectory can be adjusted continuously.” He added that, “designers will use what they learned from the long March-5B to develop a heavy-lift launch vehicle.”
According to Xinhua, the Long March-5 is scheduled to launch China’s first Mars probe and the Chang’e-5 lunar probe to collect moon samples and return to earth before the end of the year.
China launched its first manned space flight in 2003 – more than 40 years after NASA and it’s space program has accelerated as the nation has grown richer and more powerful in recent decades.
China is the first nation that successfully sent an unmanned rover to the far side of the moon and has fired space labs and satellites into orbit, backed by billions of dollars in government investment.
China is planning to send a person to the surface of the moon by 2030 which will make it the second nation in the world to achieve the feat. China is planning to launch a permanent space station by 2020.