China launched one of the world’s most powerful rockets on Friday in a major step forward for its planned mission to Mars in 2020.
The heavy lift Long March 5 rocket carrying a test satellite payload blasted off from the Wenchang launch site on the southern island of Hainan at 8:45 pm (1245 GMT), a livestream from state broadcaster CCTV showed.
“After more than 2,000 seconds, the Shijian 20 satellite was sent into its predetermined orbit,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The rocket launch “tests key technologies related to future space missions,” Xinhua said.
The successful launch is a key part of China’s ambitious plans for a mission to the Red Planet next year and hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022.
“The Long March 5 rocket is tasked with important missions,” Wu Yanhua, the deputy head of China’s National Space Administration, said in a video released by CCTV last week.
“It will be tasked with a series of key missions including launching China’s first Mars probe, the Chang’e-5 lunar probe and a core module for the manned space station.”
The rocket is carrying a Shijian 20 test satellite, according to space news site NASASpaceFlight.com.
Friday’s success comes after a previous attempt in July 2017 failed mid-launch.
The Long March 5 Y2 was supposed to put the Shijian 18 experimental communications satellite into orbit and its failure delayed plans to use the rocket in a planned mission to collect lunar samples in the second half of 2017.
China successfully launched the first Long March 5 in November 2016, which it said at the time was the most powerful launcher it had yet developed.
The Long March 5, which is capable of carrying up to 25 tonnes, is comparable in capacity to the US-made Delta IV Heavy and Russia’s Proton-M, some of the most powerful launchers in existence, according to NASASpaceFlight.com.
By contrast the US’s Saturn V, which delivered astronauts to the Moon in 1969, was designed to deliver some 140 tonnes of payload into low Earth orbit.