China Launched Long March-5B, its Largest Carrier Rocket, With a Prototype Crew Capsule

China has launched its largest carrier rocket yet on Tuesday, May 5th. The prototype rocket was transporting a new-generation spacecraft, according to the state broadcaster CCTV.

The Long March-5B carrier rocket took off at 18:00 local time (10:00 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, which is located in the southern island province of Hainan. This is the first mission performed by the Long March-5B spacecraft, as CCTV reports, citing the China Manned Space Engineering Office.

“The trial flight was a complete success,” the space agency said. “It is a prelude to the third step of China’s manned space program.”

The launch marks a major step forward for China’s two significant space exploration projects: building a space station and carrying out a mission to Mars.

A Multi-Module Space Station to Complete by 2022

The Long March-5B is a modified version of China’s most powerful rocket. It is 53.7 meters (176 feet) tall, has about 849 tons, and ten powerful engines. It has carried the next-generation crew capsule prototype, created to replace the Shenzhou spacecraft that will transport astronauts to its ambitious planned space station in low-Earth orbit.

China said back in March that it was planning to launch an experimental spacecraft without a crew as part of a more extensive spaceflight project to transport astronauts to the future space station and for other manned space exploration programs. This launch was initially scheduled for April. Long March-5B rocket’s short-duration orbital test flight is expected to conclude with re-entry and landing in a remote area in northwestern China, perhaps on Wednesday, May 6th.

The multi-module China plans to develop is set to complete around 2022. China became the third country to launch a man in space with its own rocket in 2003 after the former Soviet Union and the United States‘ missions.

China has since working to catch up with Russia and the United States to become a major space power by the year 2030.

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