China’s Long March 5 returned to flight on Friday after being ground for 2.5 years, placing an experimental communications satellite into orbit and seeming to pave the way for a series of ambitious human and science missions.
The nation’s most powerful launch vehicle lifted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center with the Shijian 20 satellite. Chinese media said the mission was successful in placing the spacecraft into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.
It was the third launch of Long March 5, and the first since an in-flight failure on July 2, 2017. The booster successfully placed the Shijian 17 satellite into orbit on its maiden flight in November 2016.
A successful launch was crucial for for a number of future launches. China plans to launch the Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and a small surface rover next July.
The Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission will follow during the fourth quarter of 2020. Other missions planned through 2024 include:
- test flight of a next generation crew vehicle;
- modules of China’s first permanent space station beginning in 2021;
- Chang’e-6 lunar sample return;
- Jun Tian space telescope; and,
- Solar Polar Orbit Telescope.
Long March 5 is designed to launch payloads weighing 25,000 kg into low Earth orbit, 14,000 kg into geosynchronous transfer orbit and 8,200 kg into trans-lunar injection.
Wenchang is China’s newest spaceport and the only one of the four launch centers located on the coastline.