Mission accomplished — officials breathed a sigh of relief as the first Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket arrived safely aboard two transport ships at the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Wednesday for prelaunch preparations, China Daily reported.
The rocket’s components were carried by Yuanwang 21 and Yuanwang 22 from Tianjin, a northern coastal municipality and home to the launch vehicle’s manufacturing complexes, the report said.
It spent about a week on the trip to the southernmost island province, according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing, the leading rocket developer in the country, the report said.
Long March 5B is the first variant of the Long March 5, which conducted its third mission at the Wenchang center in December. It will be tasked with sending large spacecraft, including modules of the China Space Station (CSS) to low-Earth orbit, the academy said in a statement.
The rocket is 53.7 meters long, with a diameter of 5 meters. It will be propelled by liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen and kerosene and will have a liftoff weight of about 849 metric tons, the report said.
Li Dong, the rocket’s chief designer, said that the craft will be pollution-free and will be the most powerful rocket when it comes to carrying capacity to the low-Earth orbit (LEO) — it will be capable of placing 22 tons (equivalent to the weight of 16 cars) of payload in orbit, the report said.
At the launch center, the rocket will make ground drills with the prototype of the Chinese space station’s core module to verify the launch sequence for the space station. After the drills, it will carry out the debut flight in April to launch the prototype of the country’s new manned spaceship, said the China Manned Space Agency.
According to China’s Ambassador to the UN, construction of the space station is well underway and the craft will be open for scientists around the world to use from 2022, the UK’s Daily Mail reported.
Like the International Space Station (ISS), the CSS would orbit 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. China hopes the space station will be operational for around a decade, supporting astronauts for 180-day stints.
This means it could outlive the ISS which may lose its funding from the White House as soon as 2024, the report said.
“CSS belongs not only to China, but also to the world,” said Shi Zhongjun, China’s Ambassador to UN, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.
“All countries, regardless of their size and level of development, can participate in the cooperation on an equal footing,” he said.
The CSS is due to be launched this year and will be fully operational by 2022. Up to three astronauts will be able to live in the CSS — which consists of one core module and two experimental ones — at the same time, the report said.
The White House wants to stop funding for the station after 2024, the latest documents indicate, and is working on a transition plan to hand the orbiting lab over to private industry.