China launched a rocket from a pad at sea for the first time today (June 5), making it the third nation to successfully demonstrate the ability to launch satellites into orbit from a floating platform (following the U.S. and Russia).
The Long March 11 rocket lifted off from a floating launch pad in the Yellow Sea just off the coast of Shandong at 12:06 a.m. EDT, or 12:06 p.m. local time (0406 GMT). It was the seventh launch of this type of Long March rocket, which first flew in 2015, and it was China’s first attempt at an offshore launch into Earth orbit.
Related: China National Space Administration: Facts & Information
On board were two technology-experiment satellites and five smaller commercial satellites, according to the Chinese news site XinhuaNet.com. The two larger satellites, named Bufeng-1A and Bufeng-1B and built by the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing, will monitor ocean winds to help improve weather forecasts.
Other payloads included an Earth-imaging cubesat, an experimental communications satellite called Tianqi-3, China’s first two Ka-band communications satellites, and a new satellite for China’s Jilin-1 remote-sensing satellite constellation, according to NASAspaceflight.com.
Videos of the launch, provided by the Chinese news agency CCTV, show the 68-foot (21 meters) Long March 11 rocket hurtling into the sky from the unnamed ship, which measures about 360 by 260 feet (110 by 80 meters).
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Launching rockets at sea can offer several advantages over land-based rocket launches. For example, the rocket can lift off closer to the equator, where Earth’s spin naturally provides a speed boost and decreases the amount of fuel needed to reach orbit.