China launches new Long March-5B rocket for space station programme

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WENCHANG: 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 test into space.

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).

According to Xinhua News Agency (Xinhua) the white large rocket blasted off from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the coast of southern China’s island province of Hainan at 6 pm Tuesday.

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, CMSA said.

Specially developed for China’s manned space program, 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 (CASC).

Modified on the basis of Long March-5, the new large rocket has a total length of about 53.7 meters, which is as tall as an 18-floor building, and has a 5-meter-diameter core stage and four 3.35-meter-diameter boosters, as well as a 20.5-meter-long and 5.2-meter-diameter fairing.

Xinhua report said the rocket also uses environment-friendly propellants, including liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen and kerosene. It has a takeoff mass of about 849 tonnes and is able to send over 22 tonnes of payloads, equivalent to the weight of more than 10 cars, to low-Earth orbit, which is currently the largest low-Earth orbit carrying capacity among China’s rockets.

The new manned spacecraft is designed to adapt to multiple tasks including low-Earth orbit missions and deep-space explorations. The spacecraft comprises a service capsule and a return capsule.

The mission will test the key technologies of the new spaceship such as the control of its re-entry into the atmosphere, heat shielding and recovery technology, according to the China Academy of Space Technology under CASC.

China started its manned space program with a three-step strategy in 1992. So far, a total of 16 major missions of China’s manned space program have been accomplished, with a success rate of 100 percent.

China has launched 11 manned spacecraft, one cargo spacecraft, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, sending 11 astronauts into space, completing the first two steps of the manned space program.

The next step is to assemble and operate a permanent manned space station.

Tuesday’s launch was the 331st mission of the Long March rocket series, Xinhua added.

– BERNAMA

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