China’s latest Long March rocket arrived on the launch pad on Wednesday morning on Hainan island three days before the scheduled maiden mission of both the rocket and the site. This launch will be different from others carried out by China because the public will be able to view it in person for the first time. Eight designated viewing areas covering 40 hectares have been chosen around the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre, including public parks and a private hotel beach, and can accommodate about 25,000 spectators. China Central Television (CCTV) revealed the launch window of the Long March 7 would be open until Wednesday if Saturday’s weather turned bad, which is not uncommon on tropical Hainan. CCTV said the 600-tonne rocket began the three-hour rail journey of several kilometres from the assembly complex to the launch site. China’s second space lab to go into orbit this year as part of permanent manned space station by 2022 It will be carrying a test model of China’s next-generation manned spacecraft, together with several small satellites. The rocket’s future role will be to deliver supplies to China’s planned space station. “The launch will open a new chapter in the history of Chinese space exploration,” a space scientist involved in the development of the new Long March rockets said. “The blast of flames, rise of vapour, the chest-pounding noise and the trembling of the ground under people’s feet ... it will be a life-changing experience for many people.” Wenchang is one of four space launch centres in China. The Jiuquan satellite launch centre is located in the heart of the Gobi desert, while Xichang is hidden away in the remote mountains of Sichuan. The site at Taiyuan, in Shanxi, remains closed to the public for most of its launches owing to military operations. Mainland space scientists had first proposed setting up a space launch centre in Hainan decades ago. Because the island lies closer to the equator, it can save fuel consumption by more than 10 per cent compared with the other launch sites. It is also convenient because the large rocket components can be transported easily by ship from China’s rocket manufacturing centre in Tianjin to Hainan, while rocket debris will fall into the ocean instead of over populated inland areas. However, the government delayed the plan because of fears that Hainan could be an easy target for a foreign invasion. The island’s tropical weather, which includes frequent typhoons, and technical concerns over humidity and salt erosion added to the authorities’ concerns. The Wenchang satellite launch centre will play a critical role in many of China’s future space activities, such as the building of a space station, which is due to be completed in about 2020.