A Chinese Long March 5B rocket lifts off with the Tianhe space station core module. Credit: Xinhua
Chinese officials confirmed the successful launch of the first element of the country’s space station early Thursday, laying the keystone to a permanently-inhabited orbiting habitat that could welcome its first astronauts this summer.
The liftoff of the Tianhe core module begins the most ambitious project in the history of China’s nearly 30-year human spaceflight program, which seeks to create a national space station after being shut out of the International Space Station, led by U.S. and Russian space agencies.
China’s Tianhe space station core module rode a heavy-lift Long March 5B rocket into orbit after liftoff at 11:23:15 p.m. EDT Wednesday (0323:15 GMT; 11:23:15 a.m. Beijing time Thursday).
Ten liquid-fueled engines ignited to send the 176-foot-tall (53.7-meter) Long March 5B rocket off the launch pad at the Wenchang spaceport on Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province.
The eight kerosene-burning booster engines and twin hydrogen-fed core engines generated 2.4 million pounds of thrust at full power. The stubby, heavy-duty rocket climbed through a cloud deck over Wenchang and turned to the southeast over the South China Sea.
Chinese state-run television broadcast the launch live, showing ...