China launches giant Long March rocket as space race heats up

The Chang Zheng 5/Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket rolls out to its launch pad at Wenchang

The Chang Zheng 5/Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket rolls out to its launch pad at Wenchang

China also plans to launch the core module of its new manned low Earth orbit space station in 2020 from the Long March 5 rocket. ISpace, also known as Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd., became the first private company to successfully launch a rocket into orbit in July following failures by private firms Landspace and OneSpace earlier in the year.

Friday's launch marks the end of a fruitful year for China's aerospace sector. In January, China became the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon.

When it comes to launching a mission to Mars, space programs are forced to work within some pretty strict windows.

Sending stuff into space is hard.

Since the Long March-1 sent China's first satellite into space almost 50 years ago, the Long March series rockets have completed 323 flights.

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But as Friday's successful launch showed, Chinese engineers seem to have fixed the rocket's critical flaws. The Shijian 20 spacecraft is similar but with different configurations.

The extent of space exploration is determined by the carrying capacity of launch vehicles. "While a failure later this month would not 100 per cent rule out a Mars 2020 Long March 5 mission, it would make it astronomically less likely".

This delayed plans by China to use the rocket in a mission to collect lunar samples in the second half of 2017.

China will continue to be the world's most frequent user of carrier rockets this year after gaining the title in 2018, with 33 successful launches this year.

In November China completed a test of its Mars exploration lander, ahead of its first mission to the Red Planet slated for 2020 which is planned to deploy a rover to explore the Martian surface.

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The Chang'e-5 probe, weighing over 8 tonnes, is expected to be launched by Long March-5 in 2020.

"While these missions are valuable in terms of science, economic development and so on, they are also important to Chinese leadership in terms of global prestige & domestic support", Andrew Jones, a correspondent for Space News, tweeted shortly before launch. Sources told the South China Morning Post that the technology "will change China's position from a follower to a leader in space communication".

GVS News Desk with additions from news agencies.

Wang Xiaojun, president of the academy, said the Long March 5 has substantially improved the country's spacefaring capability and laid a solid foundation for the research and development of future rockets that will be even bigger and mightier.

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The first Chinese space station to be completed in 2022 will be followed by drilling activity, which will begin next year on Mars. Space is once of the priority areas of Beijing's "Made in China 2025" plan for boosting self-reliance in vital technologies.

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