China launches satellites from barge in Yellow Sea



A powerful blast-off in the Yellow Sea on Wednesday afternoon has shot China into the same elite league as the US and Russia – countries capable of catapulting rockets and payloads offshore into space.

A Long March 11 rocket lifted off from a mobile launch pad floating in the Yellow Sea off eastern Shandong province, delivering as many as five commercial satellites and two others, allegedly containing experimental technology for weather forecasting and ship navigation systems, into orbit.

Xinhua reported that the nation’s first successful launch at sea was also the 306th Long March rocket launch, which ascended aboard a privately-owned platform, a converted barge that was larger than a standard soccer field.

The Long March 11, which is 21 meters tall and has a diameter of two meters, is a solid-propellant carrier rocket. It is designed with the flexibility to launch on short notice and can launch from vehicles, and now, ships.

A Long March 11 rocket blasted off from a platform in the Yellow Sea on Wednesday. Photos: Xinhua
Experts say sea launches offer advantages such as the ability to position closer to the equator. For instance, China can sail its launch ships all the way offshore to the center of the South China Sea, closer to the equator, so that rockets need less fuel and thus cutting overall costs, especially when launching low inclination satellites. Another virtue is that seaborne launches also reduce the danger of damage on the ground from falling rocket debris.

The uneventful launch was yet another demonstration of China’s prowess in aerospace and maritime technology.

Since its first manned space mission in 2003, China has continued to edge closer to the US and Russia in a three-way space race, with numerous launches and missions over the decade sending more taikonauts into space, two space stations into orbit and multiple probes and rovers to the moon. The last of these was the first-ever mission to the dark side of the moon, and the nation is also working towards a mid-2020s launch to send a probe to Mars.