China's Long March-5B rocket launched from Wenchang

Liftoff of the Long March 5B from Wenchang

Liftoff of the Long March 5B from Wenchang

The successful launch of a Long March 5B carrier rocket on Tuesday (May 5) evening marks another milestone for China's ambitious space exploration program.

The Long March-5B carrier rocket took off at 1800 local time (1000 GMT) at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern island province of Hainan. According to the news agency Xinhua, the rocket is capable of operating a permanent space station and sending astronauts to the moon.

Not only that, but the said rocket can also lift nearly 25 tons of payload to low Earth orbit, which was one of the requirements to create the said space station.

The rocket can also send cargo spacecraft to conduct in-orbit refueling for the space station, Meng said.

The United States is so far the only country to have been able to send humans to the Moon.

Also, the assembly of the Tiangong space station is expected to begin this year and finish in 2022.

During the construction of the space station, China plans to launch four Shenzhou manned spaceships and four Tianzhou cargo spacecraft to transport astronauts and supplement materials, Ji said.

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A day after China sent into space "a test version of the cargo return capsule" for its upcoming space station, it encountered an "unknown malfunction", Chinese media reported on Wednesday.

With a total length of about 53.66 meters, the Long March-5B rocket has a 5-meter-diameter core stage and four 3.35-meter-diameter boosters.

The long-anticipated space station project has been delayed by problems in the development of heavy-lift rockets to carry the modules.

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The successful maiden flight of the 54-metre Long March 5B - which has a takeoff mass of about 849 tonnes - should reassure China, following failures of the 7A model in March and 3B model in April.

"It is a prelude to the third step of China's manned space programme", the space agency said. This phase included the launch of Tiangong-1, a transitional platform to test the docking technology, and the Tiangong-2 space lab. This measure has kept China from participating in missions on the International Space Station.

Tuesday's launch was the 331st mission of the Long March rocket series.

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