Chinese Long March 5 mission fails after liftoff

The second launch of China’s latest Long March-5 carrier rocket failed after liftoff on Sunday.

Long March 5 (LM-5, CZ-5 or Changzheng 5) is China’s largest carrier rocket and was carrying an experimental communications satellite, the 7.5 tonne Shijian-18 communication satellite, into a 36,000 km apogee Geo-stationary orbit. It lifted off at 7:23 p.m. local time (7:23 a.m. ET from the Wenchang space launch center on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. But 40 minutes later, the state-run Xinhua news agency flashed a headline declaring the launch a failure without providing any additional details.

The live launch coverage was abruptly stopped by Chinese media after separation of the four boosters. The rocket has reportedly deviated from its flight path according to live tracking data displayed.

The incident has dealt a heavy blow to the country’s ambitious space aspirations. The rocket was expected to give China “heavy lift capabilities” needed to develop a large space station as well as new capabilities to reach interplanetary destinations.

The rocket is dubbed “Chubby 5” for its huge proportions of 879 tonnes weight, 5 meters core diameter and 57 meters height. The LM-5 rocket is designed to carry up to 25 tons of payload into low earth orbit (LEO), more than doubling the country’s previous lift capability. The Long March-5 successfully completed its maiden flight in November 2016 and was slated for a third launch later this year, carrying lunar probe Chang’e-5.

Xinhua initially tweeted: “#BREAKING: China’s launch of Long March-5 Y2 carrier rocket fails.” It then tweeted: “Anomaly was detected during its flight and further investigation will be carried out.”

The launch failure may cause further delay to planned Chinese space missions including Chang’e 4 andChang’e 5 lunar exploration mission, and future manned lunar missions.

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