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China successfully launched its most powerful rocket, the hulking Long March-5B, on its maiden voyage into orbit on May 5. The 176-foot-long rocket—designed to shuttle astronauts to low-Earth orbit or even around the moon—blasted off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan at 18:00 local time.
According to state-run media, the rocket is powered by a pair of hydrogen-fueled YF-77 core stage engines and eight kerosene-fueled booster engines and can haul up a 55,000-pound payload into orbit with almost 2.4 million pounds of thrust. By comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets each provide about 1.7 million pounds of thrust at lift-off and slightly more in space.
While the vehicle Long March-5B lofted into orbit is designed to carry passengers, there was no one on board this flight. Instead, the rocket hoisted a massive, 67-foot-long prototype capsule designed to carry a crew of six into space, according to SpaceFlightNow.com. The capsule is reportedly similar to what China uses as the core of their upcoming Tianhe Space Station. The upcoming space station is scheduled for completion in 2022, Asia Times reports.
This wouldn’t be the first time China constructed a space station in low-Earth orbit. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) developed two prototype space stations, Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2, which orbited Earth from 2011 to 2018 and from 2016 t0 2019, respectively. Chinese astronauts visited Tiangong-1 during missions in 2012, 2013, and Tiangong-2 in 2017.
But as space engineers often say, rockets are hard, and for China, it’s been a tough year. Last month, China’s Long March 3B, which was carrying an Indonesian communications satellite, failed shortly after launch, sending a glittering trail debris across the sky. In March, the country lost yet another rocket, called Long March 7A, which had a classified Chinese satellite strapped to it.
The successful launch of Long March-5B paves a path for China to explore further into our solar system. Missions to both the moon and Mars are scheduled to launch aboard a Long March 5B rocket, according to The Verge.
In January, 2019, China’s Chang’e 4 lunar lander became the first spacecraft to successfully land on the far side of the moon. The lander and its accompanying rover, Yuta 2, have sent back incredible photos of the mysterious distant side of the lunar surface.
China is aiming to send Chang’e 5 to the lunar surface later this year. This lander, however, will scoop up a sample of soil and return it to Earth for analysis. The Soviet Union’s Luna 20 mission was the last to return samples of the moon.
The Red Planet is also on the celestial horizon. In July, China plans to launch Tianwen-1, the country’s first Mars lander and rover and an unnamed Mars orbiter is also in the works.
World news – THAT – China Launches Its Most Powerful Rocket Yet