Chinese rocket launch fails after liftoff

China's second launch of its new-generation Long March-5 rocket was declared a failure after liftoff Sunday.

Story highlights

  • Details of what happened are unknown.
  • Rocket carried communications satellite.

Wenchang, China (CNN)The second launch of China's new-generation Long March-5 carrier rocket failed Sunday -- dealing a blow to the country's ambitious space aspirations.

Carrying an experimental communications satellite, China's largest rocket lifted off at 7:23 p.m. local time (7:23 a.m. ET) toward clear skies from the seaside Wenchang space launch center on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.
    But 40 minutes later, the state-run Xinhua news agency flashed a headline declaring the launch a failure -- without providing any details.
    Dubbed "Chubby 5" for its huge size -- 5 meters in diameter and 57 meters tall -- the LM-5 rocket is designed to carry up to 25 tons of payload into low orbit, more than doubling the country's previous lift capability.
    On Twitter, Xinhua initially posted: "#BREAKING: China's launch of Long March-5 Y2 carrier rocket fails."
    It then tweeted: "Anomaly was detected during its flight and further investigation will be carried out."
    The launch failure means further delay for a series of planned Chinese space endeavors -- including its robotic and eventual human lunar programs -- according to Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the US Naval War College and an expert on China's space program.
    "With the LM-5 being new technology, the failure points out that rocket science is extremely difficult and why more countries don't have the technology," she said.
    Before the launch attempt, Johnson-Freese said the rocket would give China "heavy lift capabilities" needed to develop a large space station as well as new capabilities to reach interplanetary destinations.

    Future ambitions

    China has announced plans to land a robotic probe on the dark side of the moon later this year and to reach Mars around 2020.
    All such future missions will depend on the LM-5 and space officials told reporters Sunday that the latest launch would help perfect the rocket design, including enabling it to send a space station into orbit "in a year or two."
    Originally announced in 2001, the LM-5 project initially suffered lengthy delays because of funding challenges and difficulties in developing new technologies for the first Chinese launcher to fully use liquid propellant.
    The LM-5 finally made its debut last November, also at the newly built Wenchang site, and was successfully launched.
    Its creators have said the LM-5's capabilities are now on par with the US-desig