China’s space program met with a setback recently when its new heavy-lift carrier rocket was unsuccessful in launching the nation’s largest satellite into orbit. The Long March-5 Y2 rocket was supposed to launch the 7.5 ton Shijian-18 technology experiment satellite.
According to India TV, an error occurred during the rocket’s flight that took off at 7:23 p.m. (local time) from the Wenchang Space Launch Center located in China’s southern province of Hainan. The goal of the launch was to test the country’s new Dongfanghong-5 (DFH-5) satellite platform. The launch was also supposed to lead to in-orbit experiments including an advanced Hull electric propulsion system, satellite-ground laser communication technologies and Q/V band satellite communication.
Nicknamed "Chubby 5," in reference to its huge size, the Long March-5 Y2 rocket measures 5 meters in diameter and 57 meters in length. It has been made to transport up to 25 tons of payload into low orbit, which is twice the previous lift capability of China. The rocket was first launched from Wenchang in November 2016 and transported its payload of the Shijian-18 satellite into pre-set orbit.
The unsuccessful launch was Long March-5 series’ last test before its mission to launch the Chang'e-5 lunar probe into space during the later part of 2017, after which it will return with lunar samples. China has launched a massive and ambitious space program in recent years. The tentatively scheduled missions to be launched by the nation includes lunar probes, crewed space missions and the construction of a space station. However, the failure of the rocket launch makes the timeline of those missions uncertain now.
“This is important. The Long March 5 is their flagship rocket,” astrophysicist at Harvard, Jonathan McDowell, told The Verge. “It is key for their ambitions. They have got to get it right.”
Incidentally, China launched its first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 into space in April of this year. The launch was made with the Long March-7 Y2 carrier rocket, the nation’s heaviest rocket, which saw the docking of the spacecraft with the orbiting experimental space station.