hina’s newest version of its workhorse heavy-lift rocket the Long March-5B (Changzheng-5B) blasted off into near-Earth orbit on May 5, carrying a prototype crew capsule and a flexible and inflatable cargo return capsule.
This was the maiden flight of the rocket which was developed for the manned space station, China’s third step of its manned spaceflight project released in 1992. China has accomplished the first two steps, sending astronauts to space and launching a short-term space lab.
The Long March-5B is 53.7 meters long and has four boosters at a diameter of 3.35 meters each. With a maximum payload of 837.5 tons, the rocket’s near-Earth orbit load reached over 22 tons.
The rocket, which only has one stage rather than the usual two, was propelled off the launch pad by the boosters and the core stage with two engines completed the journey into orbit at 260 kilometers above the Earth. This stage, with a mass of 20 tons, later plunged back to the surface in the North Atlantic off the coast of northwest Africa.
Chinese media reported that China intends to use Long March-5B to launch a Mars probe and the moon probe Chang’e-5 within this year.