China has successfully launched a critical test flight of the Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket. The launch is the first for the country’s most powerful rocket since a core stage engine failure in 2017. The failure precipitated a more than two-year-long investigation and redesign effort culminated in this morning’s launch.
The Long March 5 was launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on Hainan Island in southern China at 12:45 UTC this morning. Although the launch was primarily a test mission, the rocket carried the Shijian-20 test satellite into a Geostationary transfer orbit. The satellite is equipped with next-generation satellite technology including an experimental quantum communications payload.
This morning’s launch was the third for China’s Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket. The first was launched on November 3, 2016, and although it was considered a success, an anomaly in one of the first two stages resulted in the third stage and payload being inserted into an incorrect orbit. The second was launched on July 2, 2017, with an anomaly during flight resulted in the complete loss of the vehicle and payload.
Following this morning’s launch, Chinese officials confirmed that the crucial test mission had been a complete success. This is a critically important accomplishment for China as the rocket plays a central role in the country’s ambitious in space.
In 2020, China hopes to use the vehicle to launch the Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and accompanying rover, the maiden test flight of the country’s new crew spacecraft, and the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission. Additionally, the following year, China will be aiming to begin launching modules of the country’s new space station aboard the rocket.