China announced Friday that it had successfully launched its Long March 5 rocket after a series of setbacks, the latest chapter in the country’s ambitious space program.
The occasion marked China’s 34th space launch of the year, the most in the world and seven more than the U.S. in the same time frame.
“After more than two years’ effort… the research and development team has overcome challenges in engine technology. [We] solved the problem,” Wang Yu, chief commander of the launch mission, told Chinese state television.
The last launch of the Long March 5, which can carry 25 tons of payload, failed in 2017. Initially announced in 2001, the project was delayed multiple times to adapt new technologies to the program.
“Although there has long been talk of playing down politics in the space programme to reduce the pressure on the researchers, the pressure of this launch is very high,” a scientist who attended pre-launch briefings said. “There is simply no room for failure.”
Officials said last week that the rocket would be “tasked with important missions.”
“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,” Wu Yanhua, the deputy head of China’s National Space Administration, said in a video released by CCTV.
The mission involved the launching of a new satellite, the Shijian-20, into orbit. Sources told the South China Morning Post that the technology “will change China’s position from a follower to a leader in space communication.”
The satellite, longer than the wingspan of a Boeing 737, boosts China’s space-communication frequency to 5 gigahertz, data transfer speed to 1 terabyte per second, and will enable quantum-encryption communication for military and government users.