China Eyes Human Lunar Missions as Long March Development Progresses

China's Long March family of rockets. Credit: Jirka Dlouhy

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Liang Xiaohong, deputy head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, recently spoke publicly about his nation’s rocket plans, which include two new versions of the Long March for orbital flights, a heavy-lift vehicle for sending taikonauts to the moon, and reusable booster technology.

First, the Long March 5:

China has made key technological progress in developing Long March 5 large-thrust carrier rocket and it is hopeful that the new generation rocket will make its maiden flight in 2014, a rocket scientist said Saturday.

Engineers and scientists have succeeded in developing the first hydrogen box that will be used to store fuel for the Long March-5 rocket, said Liang, who is a member of the CPPCC National Committee, China’s top political advisory body.

According to Liang, the Long March-5 rocket will more than triple Chinese rockets’ carrying capacity in the outer space, with a maximum low Earth-orbit payload capacity of 25 tonnes and geosynchronous orbit payload capacity of 14 tonnes.

Using non-toxic and pollution-free propellant, the 60-meter-long rocket will be equipped with four propellers, with each measuring 3.35 meters in diameter, Liang said.

Liang also explained plans for the Long March 7, which will use cleaner fuel:

The Long March 7 carrier rocket, one of China’s latest generation of rockets, is expected to make its first voyage within the next five years, an official with the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology said Saturday.

Fuelled by an environmentally-friendly propellant, the Long March 7 is expected to have a launch capacity of 13.5 tonnes in low-Earth orbit and 5.5 tonnes in Sun-synchronous orbit, said Liang Xiaohong, deputy head of the academy, which is affiliated with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

“The Long March 7 will be able to carry cargo spacecraft for China’s future space station program and fulfill the long-term needs of the country’s manned space program,” said Liang, who is currently attending the annual session of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory body.

Liang said he expects the new generation of carrier rockets to phase out some of China’s in-service rockets and handle the bulk of China’s space missions by 2021.

China is also eying a super booster for trips beyond Earth orbit and reusable booster technology:

Scientists have finished preliminary research into a heavy-thrust carrier rocket that could help China send men to the moon and fly to deep space in the future.

“If approved (by the government), the heavy-thrust carrier rocket will be able to meet the demands of any proposed Chinese mission in space,” said Liang, who is also a member of the National Committee of the 11th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

After about two years of research and argument, scientists agreed that China’s future heavy-lift carrier rocket should have a lift-off thrust of 3,000 metric tons and be able to send a payload of 100 metric tons into the low-Earth orbit. Liang declined to give more details.

“China lagged more than 10 years behind the United States, Russia and Europe in the development of large-thrust launchers, and should not repeat the mistake in heavy-thrust launchers,” he said. “China should not miss out on these developments again, given its current economic and scientific strength.”

China is also researching how to use the boosters and the first two stages of a launch vehicle repeatedly, which could help reduce the launch cost, he said.

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  • dr

    This is really a statement of the obvious, but I feel I need to make it anyway.

    This is the first time that I have seen the Chinese Space Programme talking about low cost Orbital RLVs. It probably isn’t the first time that this has been mentioned.

    In the 1960’s there was a space race, USSR vs US to put a person on the moon.

    Today we have a new space race, currently it is Spacex vs Chinese military, to be the first entity to produce a low cost orbital RLV.

    My suspicion is that this space race seems less exciting than the race of the ’60s, but that the impact of this race will be far greater than the effect of that race on mankind’s relationship with space.

    I understand that XCOR and Blue Origin have talked about Orbital RLVs but I don’t think that they currently have development programmes underway, so I think at the moment the race is just two competitors.

    It will be interesting to see the response, if any, of the US government to this new race, and whether they feel that it is a “must win” race for the U.S.