Long March-7, China's new generation carrier rocket, has carried an upper stage aircraft into the space in its maiden flight Saturday, said a senior space program official.
The upgraded model of Yuanzheng-1 (Expedition-1) is an independent aircraft carried by the carrier rocket with the ability of sending multiple spacecrafts into different orbits in space, said Wang Xiaojun, chief commander of the Long March-7 program, at a press conference after the Long March-7's successful launch.
The aircraft, dubbed the "space shuttle bus", has been launched into the earth orbit by the Long March-7 and in the next 48 hours will deliver several "passengers" to different orbits using its own power system, Wang said.
These "passengers" aboard Yuanzheng-1A are of different size and weight, he said.
This will be the most complicated and longest launch mission that the country has ever operated, he said.
Compared with the Yuanzheng-1, the upgraded Yuanzheng-1A has far better capabilities. Besides the extension of flight duration from 6.5 hours to 48, its main engine can start nine times and it can unload cargos seven times, compared with the old model that unloads only once and starts its engine twice.
If the mission succeeds, it will be a landmark for China's space transport and lay a solid foundation for future moon and Mars exploration as well as orbital transfer and space debris clearing, Wang said.