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The China Manned Space Agency recently published an announcement and photograph of the first LONG MARCH 5B carrier rocket, indicating the first prototype of the nation’s latest manned spacecraft is due to make its debut flight from the Wenchang Space Centre later this month.

LONG MARCH 5B is the first variant of the LONG MARCH 5, which completed its third launch mission from Wenchang in December, according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. The imminent flight is set to validate the overall design and assess the launch vehicle’s suitability for intended future missions, placing large spacecraft in low earth orbit (LEO). The rocket has been undergoing ground tests at the Centre since being transported from the manufacturing site at Tianjin in February.

The launcher is 53.7m long, 5m in diameter, has a lift-off weight around 849t and will be powered by a mixture of liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen and kerosene. The rocket – which designer Li Dong claims is pollution-free – will be able to lift a 22t payload into LEO. China’s next-generation 8.8m manned spacecraft has a weight of 21.6t and will be tasked with manned lunar missions currently being planned as well as supporting the construction and manning of China’s future space station, the Manned Space Agency stated.

The new manned spaceship will be better able to conduct extended missions than the current SHENZHOU series and will be able to operate in a hotter environment, according to the agency. It will carry a three-man crew and up to 500kg of cargo into space: it will also be able to return materiel from the space station and will feature a re-usable re-entry module.

China’s LONG MARCH 5B is due to make its first flight from the Wenchang Space Centre in April. (Photo via China Manned Space Agency)

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