China has joined the US and Russia as nations with proven capability to launch rockets from sea, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. It was the 306th flight for the China National Space Administration's line of Long March carrier rockets, but the first time one has taken off away from solid ground, marking another significant milestone for a country with lofty spacefaring ambitions.

An ability to launch rockets from sea rather than land is desirable for a few reasons. It means that boosters can lift off from closer to the equator, which makes for greater speed and in turn greater payload capacity. They therefore require less energy to reach space which means fuel savings, while the dangers posed by falling debris should something go wrong are also less than they would otherwise be.

The Long March-11 took off from a mobile launch platform stationed in the Yellow Sea, off the coast of China's Shandong Province around midday on Wednesday, according to Xinhua. Called CZ-11 WEY, the rocket lifted five commercial satellites into space, along with two experimental satellites hoped to improve weather forecasting.

This launch follows a historic mission that saw the China National Space Administration land a probe on the far side of the Moon in January, a feat that had never been achieved before. It also plans to launch another mission to the Moon this year to collect samples from the lunar surface, establish a lunar base by 2022 and launch a mission to Mars as early as next year.