BEIJING – China successfully launched a rocket from a ship at sea for the first time on Wednesday, state media reported, the latest step forward in its ambitious space program.
The Long March 11 rocket blasted off from a platform on a large semi-submersible barge in the Yellow Sea just after midday, state media said.
The small rocket, designed to be deployed quickly and from mobile launch sites such as a ship, carried seven satellites, including one that measures sea-surface winds to forecast typhoons.
The rocket also carried two communications satellites belonging to China 125, a Beijing-based technology company that plans to launch hundreds of satellites to provide global data networking services.
The China National Space Administration said in a statement, “This is the first time that China has … (tested a) launch vehicle at sea.”
State broadcaster CCTV, in a post on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, hailed it as “a new launching mode for China to enter space quickly.”
According to the Russian company Energia, the majority shareholder in Sea Launch, launching from sea has a number of advantages, such as the ability to send off rockets from a variety of locations on Earth, as well as reduced costs and risks.
China has made its space program a top priority in recent years as it races to catch up with the United States and become a major space power by 2030. Beijing plans to begin construction of its own manned space station next year.
However, while China has insisted its ambitions are purely peaceful, the U.S. Defense Department has accused it of pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations from using space-based assets during a crisis.
China now spends more than Russia and Japan on its civil and military space programs, unveiling ambitious plans for missions to the moon and beyond in the coming decade.
Earlier this year, China became the first nation to land a rover on the far side of the moon. It also unveiled ambitious plans to build a research base on the lunar surface, send a probe to Mars and build the space station.
In 2003, China became only the third nation to have the capability of launching humans into space.
And with sea launches, China now has the ability to deploy satellites from a mobile platform.