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China's new large carrier rocket makes successful maiden flight

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A Chinese carrier rocket launching a satellite in this file photo. (Representational Image)

BEIJING (PTI): China's most powerful carrier rocket Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, successfully sending the trial version of the country's new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space, the state media reported.

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 (Beijing Time), state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

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.

The successful flight inaugurates the "third step" of China's manned space programme, which is to construct a space station, the CMSA said.

Specially developed for China's manned space programme, Long March-5B will be mainly used to launch the modules of the space station, it said.

The construction of China's space station moves a step closer with the successful maiden flight of its new large carrier rocket, a senior space official said.

The Long March-5B was specially developed to launch the space station modules, said Wang Jue, chief director of the rocket development team at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

The new rocket, a variant of China's largest carrier rocket, the Long March-5, will help expand China's aerospace activities, said Wang Xiaojun, head of CALT.

The Long March-5B is about 53.7 metres long, with a 5-metre-diameter core stage and four 3.35-metre-diameter boosters.

Compared with the Long March-5, the Long March-5B has one less core stage but a larger fairing, which is 20.5 metres long and 5.2 metres in diameter, as tall as a six-floor building, and nearly eight metres longer than the fairing of Long March-5.

The Long March-5 rocket will be mainly used for launching large satellites to high-Earth orbit and deep-space probes such as the Chang'e-5 lunar probe and the Mars probe. The Long March-5B rocket will mostly carry capsules of China's space station and large spacecraft to low-Earth orbit, according to CALT.

The Long March-5B rocket has increased China's payload carrying capacity to low-Earth orbit from about 14 tonnes to 22 tonnes, equivalent to the carrying capacity of leading launch vehicles around the world, the Xinhua report said.

With the largest payload capacity of China's current carrier rockets, the Long March-5B enables the launch of large spacecraft. For instance, each module of China's space station will be over 20 tonnes, and can only be carried into space by the new rocket.

The research team spent almost 10 years developing the new rocket, making breakthroughs in a series of key technologies, said the rocket's chief designer Li Dong.

The Long March-5B has the largest fairing of China's carrier rockets, specially designed to carry the space station modules. A rotary separation scheme ensures the fairing can separate from the payloads safely in space.

To meet the requirements of rendezvous and docking of the modules, the Long March-5B rocket needs to be launched within a "zero window", which means its launch time error should be less than a second, said Li.

The Long March-5 integrates top space technologies, including non-toxic environmentally friendly fuel and a highly stable control system, state-run Global Times reported.

"After the launch of the Long March-5, China will launch a series of 20-tonne rockets, including the Long March-5, 6 and 7," Wang Xiaojun, commander-in-chief of the Long March-7, told the daily.

The rocket will help carry the core module and experiment modules to China's space station.

China initiated the manned space programme in 1992. Designed as the country's strongest carrier rocket, the Long March-5 has a payload capacity of 25 tonnes to low Earth orbit, or 14 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit, an earlier Xinhua report said.

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