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China launches trial version of latest spacecraft

The unmanned spacecraft and its return capsule were flung into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket.

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, China’s new large carrier rocket Long March-5B blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province, May 5, 2020. The Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China’s new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space. (Tu Haichao/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, China’s new large carrier rocket Long March-5B blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province, May 5, 2020. The Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China’s new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space. (Tu Haichao/Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, China’s new large carrier rocket Long March-5B blasts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province, May 5, 2020. The Long March-5B made its maiden flight on Tuesday, sending the trial version of China’s new-generation manned spaceship and a cargo return capsule for test into space. (Tu Haichao/Xinhua via AP)

China has launched a newly designed spacecraft as part of its programme to build an orbiting space station, furthering its aspirations to rival the US, Russia and private companies in outer space exploration.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the unmanned spacecraft and its return capsule were flung into space aboard a Long March 5B rocket in its debut flight on Tuesday evening from the Wenchang launch centre in the southern island province of Hainan.

The capsule is reportedly an improvement on the Shenzhou capsule, based on the former Soviet Union’s Soyuz model, and can carry six astronauts rather than just three.

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The Long March-5B blasts off from Wenchang (Guo Cheng/Xinhua/AP)

The Long March-5B blasts off from Wenchang (Guo Cheng/Xinhua/AP)

AP

The Long March-5B blasts off from Wenchang (Guo Cheng/Xinhua/AP)

China earlier launched an experimental space station that later crashed back through the atmosphere, and plans to build a larger facility with multiple modules to rival the scale of the International Space Station.

China’s burgeoning space programme achieved a milestone last year by landing a spacecraft on the largely unexplored far side of the moon and has plans to launch a lander and rover on Mars.

The programme has developed rapidly, especially since its first crewed mission in 2003, and has sought co-operation with space agencies in Europe and elsewhere.

The US has banned most space co-operation with China out of national security concerns, keeping Beijing from participating in the ISS and prompting it to gradually develop its own equipment.

The new Long March 5B rocket has been specially designated to propel modules of the future space station into orbit.

PA