China's new large carrier rocket Long March 5B makes its first flight at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province on Tuesday. (SU DONG/FOR CHINA DAILY)
An experimental spacecraft lifted by the maiden mission of the Long March 5B carrier rocket malfunctioned as it returned to the Earth on Wednesday afternoon, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
The reverse umbrella-shaped Flexible Inflatable Cargo Reentry Vehicle, first of its kind in China, was scheduled to make a parachute-assisted landing inside the Dongfeng Landing Site in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region to finish its 19-hour journey.
However, malfunctions took place during the re-entry process and experts are analyzing available data, the agency said in a brief statement, without giving details.
The space vehicle was launched into low-Earth orbit atop a Long March 5B during the rocket's debut flight from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, and tasked with performing a re-entry test to trial a new concept of bringing in-space cargo back to Earth.
Developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, a major space contractor, the craft should unfold itself before commencing re-entry. First, the protective cover should be unlocked and thrown away. Then the vehicle should begin to inflate itself and become reverse umbrella-shaped so it could achieve self-stability and deceleration. After piercing through the blackout layer in the atmosphere, it should send out position signals to guide ground recovery personnel.
Currently, the only cargo spacecraft in China is the Tianzhou, which was used in 2017 to conduct an in-orbit refueling technology demonstration and supply propellant to the nation's Tiangong II space lab.
With a conventional design, Tianzhou will continue to serve the country's manned space station program.