China’s Long March-5B scores success in maiden flight.
Credit: XinhuaVideo/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Long March-5B rocket was launched on Tuesday at 6 p.m. (Beijing time) from the Wenchang Space Launch Site. The booster hurled into space a test model of the country’s new crewed spaceship.

The rocket is the fourth variant of the Long March-5 (LM-5) series and offers the most boost power in the Long March series. It can deliver no less than 22 tons of payload into low-Earth orbit.

Booster en route to launch pad.
Credit: Xinhua/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Booster differences

As reported by the China Global Television Network (CGTN), the biggest difference between LM-5 and 5B is that the 5B only has one and a half stages compared to two of the LM-5.

The “half stage” consists of four 3.35-meter-diameter boosters attached to the core stage.

Credit: Weibo

With the modification applied, the 5B became three meters shorter and about 20 tons lighter than the LM-5. The rocket is nearly 54 meters in height, about the size of the 18-story building.

The lack of additional stages makes it harder to be launched to the correct height, CGTN adds. “Since it can only be ignited once, there’s no way to re-maneuver it after the initial launch. Everything has to be perfect.”

The engines of the rocket are also new models. Two YF-77 hydrogen oxygen engines were installed in the core stage, and two YF-100 kerosene and liquid oxygen engines were installed for each of the four boosters.

China’s new-generation spaceship.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screen grab

New spaceship

China’s new-generation spaceship is nine meters long and can hold as many as seven astronauts. In this test mission the craft did not carry a crew.

The ship will stay in space for two days making multiple automatic orbit maneuvers, CGTN reports. The new ship is reusable thanks to its modular design. The thermal-protective coating and be reapplied after being burned-out during re-entry.

China’s space station to be operating in the 2020s. Credit: CCTV

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that the successful flight inaugurated the “third step” of China’s manned space program, which is to construct a space station, citing the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

After the booster’s liftoff, 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. Also onboard, more than 10 other experimental craft, the agency said in a statement.

The successful maiden flight verified 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.

The successful launch is also a good indication that China’s Mars 2020 Mission will fly on schedule this year.

For a press briefing on the launch, go to:

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