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China launches Long March 8 rocket on debut flight, plans for reusable booster

China successfully launched the first Long March 8 rocket late Monday (Dec. 21), kicking off a line of boosters that will eventually be reusable and make upright landings similar to SpaceX's Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy.

The rocket blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China's Hainan province at 11:37 p.m. EST (0437 GMT or 12:37 p.m. local time Tuesday, Dec. 22), according to state media reports. The rocket successfully flew five test satellites into orbit, and used environmentally friendly liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuels for the launch.

It wasn't clear if this first rocket was reusable, according to Reuters, but China has disclosed plans to reuse Long March 8 boosters in the coming years. 

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A Chinese Long March 8 rocket launches on its debut mission from the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Hainan Island on Dec. 21, 2020.  (Image credit: CASC)

"The Long March 8 rocket is designed for the international commercial space launch market and is expected to fill a gap in launch capabilities for low- and medium-orbit satellites," the Chinese state media provider CGTN said in a report about the launch.

"With a recyclable design," CGTN added, "a future variant of Long March 8 can be reusable and thereby significantly reduce costs and shorten the launch cycle." The hope is to turn around a booster for another launch within 10 days, the report said.

The new two-stage rocket uses two side boosters, with its main stages based on the designs of other Chinese rockets. The first stage is based on the Long March 7 and the second stage is based on the Long March 3. 

The Long March 8, however, fills a gap in Chinese capabilities by sending satellites either to geosynchronous orbits (allowing for gazing consistently at one area of Earth) or to sun-synchronous orbits (which allows for consistent lighting conditions for imaging), depending on the mission needs.

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