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Aerospace & Defense

China's heavy-lift rocket launch boosts space station ambitions

Xi has set 2022 goal for a national orbital outpost

The Long March-5B rocket lifts off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, China.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China successfully launched one of its most powerful rockets to date Tuesday, an accomplishment state media heralded as a significant step toward orbiting a full-scale space station around 2022, a goal set by President Xi Jinping.

The heavy-lift Long March-5B rocket is specifically designed to deliver modules of the space station. State media portrayed the inaugural launch as a significant advancement of the country's space ambitions. 

"Construction of China's space station moves a step closer with the successful maiden flight of its new large carrier rocket," Xinhua News Agency said.

The launch took place at 6 p.m. at Wenchang Space Launch Center in China's southern Hainan Province. Measuring nearly 54 meters in length, the new rocket is capable of carrying payloads up to 22 tons to low-Earth orbit, optimal for ferrying space station modules.

The March-5B is an upgraded version of the Long March-5 rocket with improvements such as reduced aerodynamic resistance. That launch vehicle successfully completed its first test in 2016, but failed the next year. The March-5 blasted off without a hitch in its third launch last December.

China has continued its rocket launches despite the coronavirus pandemic, but suffered a set back in March when a Long March-7A ended its debut mission in failure. Last month, a Long March-3B rocket malfunctioned in mid-flight. 

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