Big Chinese rocket makes maiden flight

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe Long March 5 is a heavy-lift rocket in the class of the Americans' Delta-IV Heavy vehicle

China has launched its biggest rocket to date.

The Long March 5 lifted off from the Wenchang space centre in Hainan Province at 20:43 local time (12:43 GMT).

It was carrying an experimental satellite, known as Shijian-17.

The Long March 5 gives China the capability to orbit the heaviest of payloads - such as big telecoms spacecraft and sections of its future astronaut space station.

The specifications suggest it can put about 25 tonnes in a low-Earth orbit (LEO), an altitude of a few hundred km; and up to 14 tonnes in a geostationary orbit some 36,000km above the planet.

This puts the Long March 5 in the same class as America’s current, most powerful rocket - the Delta-IV Heavy.

US companies SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing vehicles that should be able to put 50-plus tonnes in LEO.

The American space agency (Nasa) is also nearing the first flight of its Space Launch System, a monster rocket that will eventually be capable of placing 130 tonnes in low-Earth orbit.

Nasa say it will use this launcher to send astronauts to Mars. Its maiden flight is set for 2018.

image copyrightReuters
image captionChina will use the rocket to loft big telecoms satellites and modules for a space station