CHINA has launched the first ever “green” rocket, underlining its ambitions in the global space race.

The projectile – not fuelled by the potentially deadly chemical compound hydrazine – was a Long March 11 rocket, which blasted off to carry seven satellites into space.

It was launched from an ocean-based ship acting as a platform, the first time that China has launched from the sea – only the US and Russia had done so before – and the 306th mission of the Long March carrier rocket series.

State media in China hailed the country’s latest advance in space technology. The “green” rocket is seen as a major coup, though China refused to say what the “solid fuel” in the projectile consisted of.

Xinhua news agency reported that launching a carrier rocket from an ocean-based platform has many advantages over a land-based launch.

For one, the launch ship, which on Wednesday was in the Yellow Sea off Shangdong province, will be able to travel further south and launch much nearer the equator.

The closer a launch is to the equator, the greater the acceleration it will receive from Earth’s rotation. It reduces the amount of energy required to get into space and also means that less fuel is required so that, if desired, bigger payloads can be shot into space.

The launch site is also flexible and falling rocket debris poses less danger. Using civilian ships to launch rockets at sea will inevitably bring lower launch costs and give China a commercial edge in putting its own and other countries’ satellites into space.

China was late into the space race but has caught up fast – it now spends more than Russia and Japan combined on space technology.

It was back in November 2003 that China became only the third nation to launch humans into space. Earlier this year, China became the first country to land a rover on the far side of the moon.

It has also unveiled ambitious plans to build a research base on the moon, send a probe to Mars and build a space station in Earth’s orbit.

The ability to carry out ocean-based launches is key to its plans. State broadcaster CCTV, in a post on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, said yesterday’s successful operation was “a new launching mode for China to enter space quickly”.