BEIJING (Reuters) – As part of a long-term strategy to build reusable launch vehicles aimed at lowering mission costs and speeding up launch schedules for commercial customers, a new Chinese carrier rocket made its first flight on Tuesday.
At 12:37 p.m., the medium-lift Long March 8 Y-1 blasted off. (0437 GMT), carrying five satellites from the southern Chinese island of Hainan, state media announced.
In the coming years, China plans to build reusable rockets under the Long March 8 series, similar to the Falcon range that the U.S. private aerospace company SpaceX has already developed.
State media did not say whether the Long March 8 Y-1 itself was reusable, but it is anticipated that future models will be capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL) and would allow more than one launch to take place.
China will build the first VTVL vehicle around 2025, an official told a local conference in November at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the country’s primary space contractor.
The Long March 9 Y-1 launch wrapped up a hectic year for China’s space programme.
In the first lunar sample retrieval since 1976, China brought back rocks and soil from the moon earlier this month. China initiated its first autonomous mission to Mars in July.
China is planning for the construction of a multi-module, habitable space station around 2022.
It aims to set up a program to run thousands of flights each year and transport tens of thousands of tons of freight and passengers by 2045.