Latest Long March rocket fails after launch from southern China
Mission to take communications satellite into orbit unsuccessful, state media reports
China’s ambitious space programme appeared to suffer a setback on Sunday when a Long March-5 rocket with a communications satellite on board failed to successfully launch.
The Long March-5 Y2 rocket, carrying the Shijian-18 communications satellite, blasted off at 7.23pm from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in the southern province of Hainan, trailing a vast column of flame.
However, 40 minutes after the launch, the Xinhua News Agency said the operation was “unsuccessful” and “abnormity was detected during the flight”.
“Experts will be mobilised to investigate and analyse the reasons behind [the failure],” it said, without elaborating.
It was not clear whether the rocket had entered orbit before the failure occurred.
The launch was the final scheduled test for the Long March-5 series before it will send the Chang’e-5 lunar probe into space in the second half of the year. The probe will collect samples before returning to Earth.
Weighing 7.5 tonnes, Shijian-18 is the heaviest satellite China has launched into space.
The Long March-5 Y2 is the nation’s second heavy-lift rocket, able to put 25 tonnes into orbit
and 14 tonnes into geostationary orbit, more than twice the capacity of previous Long March models.
It is designed to launch space station components, deep-space probes as well as communications satellites.
The Long March-5 made its maiden flight in November last year from Wenchang.
Xinhua reported last week the Long March-5 Y2 would be fuelled by liquid hydrogen, kerosene and liquid oxygen.
Beijing sees its multibillion-dollar space programme as a symbol of China’s rise and the Communist Party’s success in turning around a once poverty-stricken nation.
Last month China successfully launched the Long March-4B, its first X-ray space telescope to study black holes, pulsars and gamma-ray bursts.
And in April, the country’s first cargo spacecraft completed docking with an orbiting space lab – a key step toward China’s goal of having a crewed space station by 2022.
China has scheduled eight launches of the Long March-5 in the coming years for the nation’s lunar probe, manned space station and Mars probe missions.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse