The Long March-5B rocket launches from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern Chinese province of Hainan, sending unmanned prototype spacecraft and a return cargo capsule that successfully entered orbit.
The new rocket model is a variant of the Long March-5 and can carry larger payloads – up to 22 tons into low Earth orbit.
It was designed to bring the space station module into orbit, said Wang Jue, chief director of the rocket development team at the China Vehicle Technology Launching Academy (CALT).
It is about 53.7 meters long, Xinhua reported, and weighed around 849 tons during takeoff.
It has been almost 10 years in development and boasts the biggest fairing – a nose cone that contains loads – from any Chinese carrier rocket.
The single-core stage makes the structure simpler and will ensure greater reliability, compared to multi-stage rockets, according to Xinhua.
One of the main challenges for designers is to ensure the rocket can drop its payload directly into orbit, which requires extreme accuracy.
As a result, Long March-5B is equipped with guidance, navigation and control technology which means the trajectory can be adjusted continuously, chief designer Li Dong told Xinhua.
Designers will use what they learn from Long March-5B to develop heavy launch vehicles, he added.
Before the end of the year, Long March-5 is scheduled to launch China’s first Mars probe and the Chang’e-5 lunar probe to collect lunar samples and return to Earth, according to Xinhua.
China launched its first manned space flight in 2003 – more than 40 years after NASA.
But because this country has grown richer and stronger in the past few decades, its extraordinary program has accelerated.
Backed by billions of dollars in government investment, Beijing has fired space and satellite laboratories into orbit and even became the first country to send unmanned plows to the far side of the moon.
Now, China plans to launch a permanent space station in 2022, and there is even talk of becoming the second country to send someone to the surface of the moon, maybe in the 2030s.
Ben Westcott, Matt Rivers and Lily Lee from CNN contributed to this report.